As the snow begins to fall this afternoon, it reminds me that shoveling snow can be strenuous and, if performed improperly, downright dangerous. Typically we see many patients with sore bodies and joint pain right after a snow storm. When it comes to shoveling snow, the key is being heart healthy and back friendly with prevention. I share the following information with my patients every year; feel free to pass it on.
The physical stress of shoveling snow consists of bending, lifting and twisting. If you combine this with the exposure to freezing weather conditions, it can take a serious toll on your body. When done correctly, shoveling snow can be a good workout. When you consider that the average shovel-full of snow weighs 5-10 pounds, the average driveway holds hundreds of pounds of snow. Typically your back, shoulders and arms take the brunt of it all. The cold air can numb the feelings of pain and fatigue, so you may not notice soreness for quite a while. Unfortunately, pain is a sign that an injury has already occurred!
Proper snow shoveling techniques can make a big difference in how you feel the next day. Here are some snow shoveling safety tips:
- Do the Prep Work. Spraying your shovel with Teflon will ensure snow does not stick to it and makes your job much easier.
- Warm-up first. Just like with any sort of exercise, stretching and limbering up is a crucial step to fight off injury. Don’t get so caught up in shoveling that you forget to breathe regularly. Holding your breath makes you more prone to injury.
- Wear warm clothing. You will be hot and sweaty when you shovel snow. But, it is important to layer your clothing to keep the heat in. Exposing sweaty skin to the cold is a quick way to get frostbite.
- Wear the right shoes. The right shoes will keep your feet warm and safe. Boots are a good choice. They are generally waterproof and support your foot well.
- Get an ergonomic shovel. There are many different kinds; I like this one by Bosse Tools. Choose one that is chest high on you, this allows you to keep your back straight when lifting. Keeping one hand close to the shovel’s base will help you leverage the snow better and save you from unnecessary back pain.
- Pay attention to weather forecasts. Take in to account wind chill and frostbite dangers. Shovel when the day is warmest. Follow The Weather Channel.
- Listen to your body. Know your limits; working too hard, too fast is an easy way to strain muscles. Waiting until the afternoon may be a good idea. When we sleep at night, there is increased fluid pressure in the disc. During the day as you are standing, walking, sitting, the fluid gets pushed back out. But if you go straight to shoveling in the morning limits the movement of that fluid, which can lead to disc injuries.
- Drink lots of water. Just like any other exercise, staying hydrated is crucial to avoid cramps and possibly passing out. Avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee and hot chocolate, as caffeine dehydrates the body faster.
- Use proper posture. Even if you follow every other tip on this list, improper function can lead to severe back pain. Remember to bend your knees and lift loads with your legs. Avoid twisting your back suddenly by simply tossing the snow gently to the side. The American Chiropractic Association recommends using the “scissors stance,” in which you work with your right foot forward for a bit before switching to the left foot.
- Take a break. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself; Rome wasn’t built in a day. Avoid overextending yourself by shoveling about five or ten minutes at a time and then rest for two minutes. Then if you feel like you are up to it help your neighbor with their walkway or driveway.
- See your chiropractor. Chiropractic adjustments will help keep your back flexible and minimize the chance for injury. Extremity adjustments go hand-in-hand with spinal adjustments. The key in any adjustment is to help restore normal motion to areas that have become misaligned (subluxated).
For questions related to lifting heavy objects, chiropractic ergonomics or extremity adjustments, feel free to contact me, ACT Wellness Center, 14111 Minnieville Road, Woodbridge, VA., 703-491-9355, www.actwellness.com.