Prevent Back Pain From Shoveling Snow
Shoveling Snow: How to Optimize your Form, Choose the right Shovel, and Prevent Pain and Injury of the Lower Back and Neck:
Shoveling has been well known as a precursor to lower back and/or neck pain. We see too many lower back and neck injuries after a big snowstorm. Our intention is to help prevent this from constantly happening time and time again, so you won’t need any back pain physical therapy! Winter has finally hit us like a ton of bricks. While there’s no doubt that the fluffy flakes of snow falling from the sky are a sight to behold- homeowners across the country all know what’s to come once the snow stops falling.
Before we head outside geared up and shovels in hand- here are some key points to keep in mind in order to prevent lower back and neck injury:
- Whether we’ve received 3inches or 12inches of snow, shoveling is a very arduous and heavy task. As we shovel, snow inherently builds up and the risk of injury increases as we pile the snow. According to the NWS, a standard shovel full of snow can weigh up to roughly 5.7lbs. But depending on the type of snow and the water content, that weight can go up to 30lbs! Thinking about how many shovels we fill and move as we shovel our driveways and backyards, it is easy to see how the intensity adds up.
- The American Heart Association states that the combination of cold temperatures and increased physical exertion creates a recipe for trouble for those with pre-existing conditions like cardiovascular disease and those that are more sedentary. The increased load on the heart places those individuals for a greater risk of heart attack while shoveling.
- Even for those healthy and physically fit individuals, shoveling places increased load on our lower back, shoulders and legs, especially when we are moving fast in an effort to clear the snow quickly. Mindlessly shoveling can force us to rotate and swing our shovels as we move the snow to the side, placing many of us at a heightened risk for lower back spasms and injury.
So what can we do about it?
Obviously, short of moving to the sunny shores of Florida, snow is an inevitable part of the winter season. Luckily there are many tips that we can follow to decrease our risk for injury and keep us safe this holiday season.
-Whether we think of it this way or not, shoveling is like an intense full-body workout. Just like it’s not a good idea to go to the gym and pump the iron without warming our bodies up, it’s not a good idea to head outside and begin shoveling snow without a proper warmup- no matter how light we think the snow is. A warm-up can include some gentle yoga stretches:
Try these easy knee and hip stretches:
Choose an appropriate shovel: Here is a helpful link for deciding which shovel is best for you: Backyardville: Choosing the Right Shovel
Tips for shoveling technique, in order to prevent injury:
- Push the snow rather than lifting it when you can
- When lifting snow, break the piles into layers, in order to cut down on the amount of snow we pick up at any one time. Better to take 4 scoops to clear a 30 pound, 5 inch pile than to try to lift it in just 1-2 passes.
- When lifting, keep a relatively flat back, squat down, and lift with your legs, rather than bending over and lifting with our backs. Don’t twist to throw the snow to the side, use your feet to turn your entire body, keeping the shovel in front of our bodies as much as possible.
- As hard as it may be, remember to take breaks. Sure, it may take longer to clear the snow in front of your house, but you’ll thank yourself afterwards.
- Make sure to breathe as you are lifting the load, instead of holding the breath and bearing down (a.k.a. “valsalva event”) which can cause strain on the heart and lungs.
Depending on where you live, snowfall may be temporary and not a yearlong ordeal. That being said, months of being sedentary or not taking care of our bodies is practically begging to get hurt once the snow does start falling. All the ergonomic shovels in the world, and taking regular breaks while shoveling is no substitute for regular exercise and recovery throughout the year. There is no better rehab than Prehab and wellness. Our team at Universus Physical Therapy Huntington NY offers classes and sessions to help you live your best life, strong and injury-free.
As physical therapists, we not only work with patients to heal and recover following injuries, but we also train our clients on proper body awareness to decrease compensations and prevent injury. A huge part of our plans when working with patients is to show and develop easy to implement warm-ups, exercises, and routines to help keep people safe, happy, and free from pain.
If you are looking for help in injury prevention or if you have an injury which is currently stopping you from being the best you can be, you can:
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