Snow shoveling injuries

January 11th, 2011
Snow shoveling injuries

Provided by Advance Physical & Aquatic TherapyNow that winter has given us the first bouts of snow here in the Delaware Valley, here are some helpful tips on hefting the white stuff without wrecking your back and causing back pain.1. Avoid holding your breath
Optimize the function of your respiratory system and utilize the more efficient aerobic mechanism for supplying your muscles with energy. In addition, you may get lightheaded or feel a headache coming on if you hold your breath.

2. Bend from your hips and knees, NOT your back
Use a squat technique like your are sitting back into a chair, lean your upper body forward from your hips and knees while you balance your weight over your feet by leading and reaching back with your butt. Practice by doing squats to a chair without allowing your rear end to touch the chair.

3. Maintain a neutral spineThat means neither bending nor arching away from your midrange comfort zone. For some, neutral is a flattened low back, for others a very mild arch, but it is never the rounded back you will see when you observe some people shoveling.
To maintain neutral you will have to engage your abdominal and low back muscles, working the low back extensors most as you bend, to stabilize your low back and keep it from rounding. Emphasize (contract) your abdominals as you reach and rise. The heavier the load you are shoveling, the harder your muscles should work to keep your spine in neutral.4. Avoid reaching too farShovel the snow close to you – the more outstretched your arms are when you lift, the heavier the snow effectively becomes, placing a greater strain on your low back. To understand this better, imagine playing on a see-saw when you were a kid. The farther you sat from the center axis, the “heavier” you became and you could keep your friend on the other end up in the air at will!5. Lift from your legs
Just as when you lift a heavy box from the floor, rise from your knees and hips to avoid overdoing the effort on your arms and back.6. Consider wearing an abdominal belt
Some studies have shown that wearing a belt for heavy lifting activities raises intra-muscular pressure of the back muscles (erector spinae) and in doing so helps to stabilize the low back (lumbar spine) during lifting exertions.7. Pivot to avoid excess twisting of your trunkJust as with a golf swing, allow your hips to move with your shoulders so that you require less rotation of your spine. For example, a right-handed golfer pivots over his right foot during his swing and follow-through while his left foot remains firmly in contact with the ground. When you are moving the snow from here to there, pivot over your back foot while turning your trunk toward the opposite side.8. Layer Lift
If the snowfall was a big one, lift and move it in layers to limit the weight.  You don’t have to dig all the way down to the sidewalk with each maneuver.9. Take rest breaks and be sure to stay hydrated
You may not realize how much you are actually exerting when you shovel snow. Drink before you get thirsty to avoid dehydration and rest to stay strong and refreshed.10. A final caution:
Delegate the shoveling if you have a cardiac history, a significant history of low back painproblems or are suffering from a shoulder or knee injury.