It’s that time of year again when we escape into the beauty of watching those first flakes fall.
But it is also the time when ER visits go up due to injuries and heart attacks from the strenuous cleanup of shoveling.
Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity.The dangerous combinations of cold temperatures, slippery ice, and physical exertion cause numerous mishaps, including cardiac issues and muscle strains/low back injuries.
Understanding the mechanism that may lead to an injury, enables you to counteract and prevent. Low backs are the most frequently injured from shoveling snow. Outlined below we will review why this occurs and what you can do to minimize any ill effects on your back.
Mechanics of shoveling snow
Shoveling requires repetitive bending of your back, heavy lifting, and twisting. Isolated each of these is known to cause strain to your back. When you combine all three it is a recipe for disaster. When you understand the mechanics you can avoid and remedy the big culprits.
Bending forward is a normal activity. Problems occur when you bend forward consistently more than you bend backward. Slouched sitting places your back in a similar forward bent position. Initially, you will feel stiffness coming back up from the forward bend or getting out of the chair. This stiffness is your body giving you a warning sign. Poor sitting posture/ repetitive bending has stressed the soft tissue in your back beyond its normal resting place. Once you take a few steps you will be able to correct it, but if you continue to stress this same tissue it will become damaged. The body is supposed to move and be in different positions. The problem is in the length of time that you are in that position.
Discs are the protective shock absorber between the bones in your back. The inside or nucleus is made up of mostly water. When we sit slouched for a long time and/or bend forward repetitively, this constant pressure displaces the nucleus or jelly-like center backward. You will not notice anything until you try to get out of that position or attempt to straighten up. This displacement causes stiffness in the joint. Once you take a few steps you will feel better, because the walking motion places an opposite pressure on the displaced nucleus, pushing back to its central position. But over time, the nucleus may not be centered all the way and instead stays a bit posterior. It then only takes a little bit of pressure or twist while lifting a shovel of snow to throw your back out!
Know your limitations and get help when you need it. If you are out of shape or have other conditions take is easy.
- Heart attacks can occur when there is a sudden increase in workload and the heart is unable to handle this requirement.
- Know your surroundings. Ice leads to slips and falls. Wear shoes with treads and throw down salt or sand to help create foot traction.
- Be prepared with the proper tools and clothing. Wear layers of clothes that you can remove as your core temperature increases when you are working. Use a shovel that is ergonomically correct and lightweight.
- Warm-Up: If you are going to do heavy lifting and repetitive bending, make sure you are ready. Warm-up with back extensions. If you able are unable to do a full extension (cobra) do a set of ten to help increase your flexibility. The loss of extension range of motion is most often from prolonged sitting.
- Mechanics –When shoveling, push rather than throw and avoid twisting and throwing over your shoulder as this leads to a greater rate of injury.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart to maintain balance.
- Try to keep the shovel close to your body.
- Bend at the knees—not the waist or back.
- Tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow to help maintain your spine in a neutral position.
- Lift with your legs—not your back.
- Avoid twisting your body.
- Push or dump the snow in front of you.
- Take breaks when you start to feel back stiffness and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Perform standing back extensions whenever you take a break, or when you have any stiffness.
- Avoid sitting slouched after vigorous activity for 24 hours, as the slouched position will place your spine in the same flexed posture as bending forward.
If you do sustain a low back injury, please visit: Eliminate your back pain
At any hint of shortness of breath or chest pain, stop shoveling immediately and, if symptoms persist, seek medical attention.