Oh my aching back!

Tis the season for shoveling snow.  One of the dreads of winter is the aftermath of all the serene white flakey stuff gracefully falling to a peaceful landscape of calm; you are left with cleaning up mother nature’s mess so as to resume some sense of normalcy in the days after.Shoveling snow as we have all been warned is not something to be taken lightly.  Even for us “fit” folks, we get sore after moving and clearing the white stuff off our driveways, cars, front walks and steps.  It’s not an activity that ANY of us are accustomed to doing unless you actually perform manual labor for a living.  As much as I try to perform the correct maneuvers to shovel, I inevitably end up with a sore back for a couple of days afterwards.  I see my neighbors out shoveling and the bad form makes me cringe with each scoop of the shovel. 

With all that said, what are some ways to help minimize injuring ourselves while we dig out from Mother Nature’s fury?
·         Lift with your legs.  Time and time again this has been repeated.  Think of a squat, brace your abdominals to protect your back, bend the knees to scoop and then face the direction you will be placing the snow. 
·         NEVER twist and fling the snow.  This will almost guarantee you will probably hurt yourself in the long term.  This is how people ultimately herniate or bulge discs in their low back.  Bend over, twist and fling.  BIG NO-NO.
·         If the snow is heavy, scoop smaller loads.  Let’s face it, snow can get heavy if it’s wet and packed down.  Add that to the bend and twist; it’s a recipe for disaster.
·         If the forecast calls for A LOT of snow, try and go out more frequently.  2-3” of snow at a time is a lot easier to move than 6-8” in one go. 
·         In the aftermath, don’t wait too long to let the snow melt off.  It just gets heavier.  The sooner you get to it, the sooner your cleared areas melt off and dry with the sun shining (we hope).  If the forecast calls for continued sub-freezing temps, even more of an excuse to clear off the snow.  If it refreezes, now you’re dealing with ice, which is harder to clear out.
·         OR avoid it all together:
o   Put your kids to work or hire the neighbor’s kid.  Although, I would clear your own car first.  DO NOT take your shovel or a broom to the roof of your car if you at all care about damaging your vehicles paint.
o   Invest in a snow blower.
o   Move some place where it doesn’t snow (Hawaii sounds nice about now).
Shoveling snow can certainly be a chore and a nuisance if it does it a lot.  For those who already have preexisting low back issues (80% of the population has suffered from low back pain at some point or another), be extra cautious.  Shoveling is a strenuous and repetitive activity.  Most of us are unaccustomed to this type of activity and will most likely be sore to a certain degree.  If that soreness, lingers past 3-4 days after, you may have over done it.  If at 7 days, the pain persists and has not managed to go away, it may be best to seek out your friendly PT or orthopedic to get things checked out.  For more serious issues (and you’ll know), shooting pain into the legs or sharp pains to the low back which leaves you unable to move for days, get into the doctor ASAP.  They can prescribe medications that will help subside some of the symptoms, then get into see your PT for further management and resolution of symptoms.  Stay safe and keep warm…spring can’t come soon enough!

Dr. Jamie So

Jamie So, PT, DPT, is the owner and physical therapist of Manual Therapy Effects.

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