If you are one of the tens of thousands of people a year who injure themselves while shoveling snow, winter can become less of a wonderland and more of a nightmare. The most common injury reported after a snowstorm is lower back strain, but sometimes more serious conditions like herniated discs or even heart attacks can be brought on by the attempt at keeping your sidewalk clear. While sometimes it seems like making a mass exodus to a warm, tropical climate would seem to be the solution, there are some things that you can do to ensure that you protect yourself during what is hopefully our last snowstorm of the season.
Don’t panic at the forecast ahead, there are 8 simple things that you can do to avoid injury while shoveling.
Warm up! Warming up will help to increase blood flow to your muscles, reducing your risk of injury. If you are planning on shoveling upon waking, be sure to give your body adequate time to warm up and increase blood flow.
Use an ergonomic snow shovel! A shovel with a bent handle can reduce the amount of bending required and reduced the mechanical load on the lower back by 16%, per a study done by the University of Calgary.
Lift with your legs and use your core! You’ve probably already heard this before but it’s worth repeating. Bear the weight by lifting with your legs to reduce pressure on the muscles of the spine. Engage your abdominal muscles while lifting; this will help to ensure you are protecting the muscles along the spine.
Don’t round your spine! Without a strong core, often the back begins to round, causing the spinal erectors (the muscles responsible for keeping your spine upright) to disengage, which can cause the spinal ligaments to stretch and become painful.
Avoid twisting! Twisting can put strain on the discs, leading to herniation. Try to turn with the entire body, rather than twisting through the spine.
Keep the shovel light! It sounds obvious but keeping the load on your shovel a light and manageable weight is one of the most manageable and immediate ways to avoid injury. According the Huffington Post, snow can weigh anywhere from 7 – 20 pounds per cubic foot. Do your body a favor and keep your load light.
Be active throughout the year! While this is more of a preventative measure that should be exercised throughout the year, keeping your body physically fit will help to prevent injuries.
Build core strength! If your core is weak the muscles in your back will have to work that much harder. Building core strength will also help to improve posture over time, making you less prone to injury.
What happens if you do hurt yourself?
Understanding the difference between a herniated or slipped disc and a strain is critical to getting the best care for your condition. Lower back strain happens when a muscle gets over -tightened. Your body’s natural response to injury is to protect itself by swelling or becoming inflamed. Blood rushes to the injured tissue in order to restore it, thus becoming inflamed. This can lead to painful spasms. Herniated or Slipped Discs happen when your discs between the vertebrae slip out of position. This can put intense pressure on one or several nerves. If you begin to feel pain radiating down your leg while shoveling, put down the shovel immediately. Ice and heat therapy can help to alleviate pain caused by a strain, but you should see your doctor to properly diagnose your condition. If you do have a herniated disc, a combination of physical therapy, gentle stretching and exercise can help to relieve pressure on the nerve root. Chiropractic manipulation is also helpful in relieving the pain caused by slipped discs and lower back strain and can be a critical element to keeping the spine supple and flexible to avoid injuries in the future.