Watch your back during the snow season
Watch your back during the snow season
Brrr! “Honey, it’s cold outside”! Now that winter is here, snowfall is certainly in the forecast for the Mid-Atlantic. Many people tackle the white stuff without due care and end up bending, twisting and lifting heavy weights. Improper biomechanics during paddling and snowshoeing can lead to back pain, shoulder pain, and other injuries that lead to muscle strains and sprains and even herniated discs. Here are some pointers to help you relieve excessive stress on your spine during snowy weather.
Stretch and warm up!
Most people who are about to tackle snow removal do not prepare their muscles well in advance. Just like warming up for a workout or run, proper stretching before shoveling snow reduces your chance of injury. Start by stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps (upper thigh muscles), calves, groin and buttocks. A chiropractor or fitness trainer can provide a list of suitable stretches, and instructions for performing them correctly are usually available online. Hold each stretch for 15 seconds. Ten minutes of stretching and warm-up are recommended.
According to a report published by the US Surgeon General, just 15 minutes of snow shoveling is as strenuous as 30 minutes of regular physical activity. If you are considered to be at risk of a heart attack, you should be extremely careful about exercise. Paying someone else to do your snow removal can be a very wise, possibly life-saving, decision. Dr. Thomas Campbell, chief of emergency medicine at the Hospital of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, states, “Snow removal is a very risky endeavor. Lifting 10 shovels of snow in 1 minute can take as much energy as climbing 7 flights of stairs.” He also advises avoiding shoveling altogether for those over 40 or 45, those with sedentary lifestyles, or individuals with known high blood pressure.
Correct biomechanics during scooping
Snow ranges from wet and heavy to powder and dry. Depending on the amount and weight of the snow, using a lighter weight plastic shovel may be beneficial in heavier snowfalls. Spraying silicone spray or a product like WD-40 on the shovel blade will help keep snow from sticking and make snow removal less stressful. Choose a shovel with a curved, adjustable handle that is a design that works well regardless of the height or size of the individual.
It’s smarter to push snow than to drag it. The key to doing a proper snow lift is to squat with your buttocks low and bend at the hips and knees. Hold the shovel with your hands about 12 to 18 inches apart, with one hand on the handle and the other closer to the blade. Always face the pile of snow you are going to lift instead of arching your spine to reach it. In fact, twisting your spine while bending forward can increase the pressure on the discs in your lower back by up to 100 times! Use your leg muscles and contract your abs each time you lift, almost like throwing yourself into the snow.
Stretch your legs, buttocks, back, shoulders and arms throughout the period you are rowing. Stretching increases flexibility and warmth and limits the likelihood of injury. Some lifters choose to wear a corset or brace to support the back muscles, further reducing the potential for injury. While paddling, stay hydrated by drinking frequent fluids (non-alcoholic, of course!), as it’s surprisingly easy to become dehydrated while shoveling snow even in colder climates. To prevent slips and falls, pour cat litter or salt on icy or already shoveled walkways.
Coccyx (tailbone) injuries are relatively common during the snow season, when slippery conditions make it more likely that you will fall and land on your back. As you shovel the snow, always turn your whole body, making sure your belly button is the “pointer” and facing the place you intend to dump the snow. Walk to where you are shoveling snow instead of throwing snow over your shoulder or contorting your torso to reach it. When operating a snow blower, use your leg and butt strength, not your shoulders. Contract your abs and keep your spine straight as you maneuver the machine.
Remember to take frequent breaks while paddling. Often, a quick rest every 10 to 20 minutes helps muscles rejuvenate from fatigue. Shoveling smaller piles of snow more often is a better approach than trying to move heavier piles in one marathon session. Contrary to some opinions, snow removal during a snowfall is smarter than waiting for a major snowstorm to end.
Appropriate snow removal clothing
Dressing appropriately for prolonged exposure to cold weather should be a no-brainer! Appropriate clothing is essential to prevent frostbite and other harmful effects. Boots should have good protection and using cat litter or an ice melter anywhere you need good support can help prevent slips and falls. Put your clothes on. Wearing waterproof items under your heavier clothing and including underwear that wicks can help prevent exposure and illness. Note that mittens trap heat much more effectively than mittens.
What to do if you suffer an injury
Even light physical activities can cause a herniated disc, back pain, neck and shoulder pain, radiating pain, and muscle pain. If, despite taking precautions, you sustain an injury or develop pain or muscle strain while snow plowing, stop all efforts. Help is available! Contact Corrective Chiropractic and let trained professionals make you more comfortable and help you recover faster through a variety of relief therapies.
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