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Protect your back during the snow season

brrrr! “Baby it’s cold outside”! Now that winter is here, snowfall is certainly in the Mid-Atlantic forecast. Many people pick up white things without due caution and end up bending, twisting, and lifting a lot of weight. Improper biomechanics when shoveling and blowing snow can lead to back pain, shoulder pain, and other injuries that lead to muscle strains, sprains, and even herniated discs. Here are some guidelines to help relieve excessive stress on your spine during snowy weather.

Stretch and warm up!
Most people who are about to tackle snow removal don’t properly prepare their muscles beforehand. Just like warming up for exercise or running, proper stretching before shoveling snow reduces the chance of injury. Start by stretching your hamstrings, quads (upper thigh muscles), calves, groin, and buttocks. A chiropractor or fitness trainer can provide a list of appropriate stretches, and instructions on how to do them correctly are often posted online. Hold each stretch for 15 seconds. Ten minutes of stretching and warming up is recommended.

According to a report published by the US Surgeon General, just 15 minutes of shoveling snow is as much effort as 30 minutes of regular physical activity. If you are considered to be at risk of a heart attack, you should be very careful with physical exertion. Paying someone else to shovel snow can be a very wise decision, possibly saving lives. Dr. Thomas Campbell, director of Emergency Medicine at Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh, says, “Snow shoveling is a very risky job. Lifting 10 snow shovels in 1 minute can take as much energy as climbing 7 flights of stairs.” He also advises people over the age of 40 or 45, those leading a sedentary lifestyle, or those with known high blood pressure to avoid shoveling altogether.

Correct biomechanics during shoveling
Snow varies from wet and heavy to powdery and dry. Depending on the amount and weight of snow, using a lighter plastic shovel may be advantageous during heavier snowfalls. Spraying a silicone spray or a product like WD-40 on the shovel blade will help prevent snow from sticking and make snow removal less strenuous. Choose a shovel with an adjustable, curved handle, which is a design that works well regardless of a person’s height or size.

It is smarter to push the snow than to drag it. The key to lifting snow correctly is to squat down with your buttocks low and bend at the hips and knees. Hold the shovel with your hands 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 twisting your spine to reach it. In fact, twisting your spine while leaning forward can increase pressure on your lumbar discs up to 100 times. Use your leg muscles and contract your abdominal muscles each time you lift, almost lunging through the snow.

Stretch your legs, glutes, back, shoulders, and arms the entire time you spend paddling. Stretching increases flexibility and warmth and limits the chance of injury. Some shovelers choose to wear a corset or brace to support their back muscles, further reducing the potential for damage. While shoveling, stay hydrated by drinking fluids frequently (non-alcoholic, of course!), as it’s surprisingly easy to get dehydrated while shoveling, even in colder weather. To prevent slips and falls, for kitty litter or salt on walkway areas that are icy or have already been shoveled.

Tailbone (coccyx) injuries are relatively common during the snowy season, when slippery conditions make it more likely that you will fall and land on your back. As you shovel snow, always turn your entire body, making sure your belly button is your “pointer” and is facing where you intend to shovel the snow. Walk toward the area where snow is accumulating instead of throwing it over your shoulder or twisting your torso to reach it. When operating a snow blower, use the power of your legs and buttocks instead of your shoulders. Contract your abdominal muscles and keep your spine straight as you maneuver the machine.

shoveling frequency
Remember to take frequent breaks while paddling. A quick rest every 10 to 20 minutes often helps muscles rejuvenate from fatigue. Shoveling smaller snow drifts more often is a better approach than trying to move heavier drifts in a marathon session. Contrary to some opinions, shoveling snow during snowfall is smarter than waiting for a big snowstorm to end.

Appropriate clothing for snow removal
Dressing appropriately for extended exposure to cold weather should be a no-brainer! Proper clothing is essential for the prevention of frostbite and other ill effects. Boots should have a good sole, and using kitty litter or an ice melt product where needed for good jogging can help prevent slips and falls. Layer your clothes. Wearing waterproof items under thicker clothing and including wick-absorbing underwear can help prevent exposure and illness. Keep in mind that mittens trap heat much more efficiently than gloves.

What to do if you are injured
Even mild physical activities can cause herniated discs, back pain, neck and shoulder pain, radiating pain, and muscle pain. If, despite precautions, you experience an injury or develop muscle pain or strains during snow removal, stop all efforts. Help is available! Contact Corrective Chiropractic and let the trained professionals make you more comfortable and help you recover faster through a variety of relief therapies.

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