It is inevitable that those of us living far enough north or south of the equator deal with snow accumulation. The reduction of back pain and how we can move snow safely is the purpose of this article. Numerous times throughout late fall to early spring patients present to the office with back pain as a result of trying to clean off the sidewalks and driveway.
Preparation for Snow Removal
In most instances, we wait until the snowfall has stopped before we go out and begin snow removal. We are inactive, get our coats and boots on and begin the shoveling process. Then injury strikes. What should have been done before removing snow to minimize the chance of injury?
- Back Stretches – Basic back and lower extremity stretches produce flexibility in the back and legs. Some basic calisthenics or even walking rapidly in place is better than doing nothing all before shoveling. In many cases, people are sitting in the easy chair nice and comfortable and then go out into the cold and start lifting heavy shovels full of snow. That’s a classic recipe for back injury. Muscles and ligaments are not ready for the heavy strain and repetitive motion.
- Proper Clothing – Dress in layers. If you perspire too much and get chilled, it can contribute to muscle spasms in the neck and back. Studies have shown that nearly 1/3 to 1/2 of your body’s heat is lost by not covering your head in the winter. Wearing a coat that is too tight does not allow the back motion to be completed due to the restriction of the coat, and this can contribute to overloading the muscles resulting in a straining injury. Keeping the neck warm prevents muscles from being chilled that may result in muscle spasm or a condition called torticollis or wryneck. If caught right away this condition is treated very successfully with minimal chiropractic care. Nevertheless, it’s a painful condition that can keep you from working or doing your normal activities of daily living until it’s resolved.
- Snow Shovel – The size of the snow shovel is also important. A shovel that is too large can cause extra weight increasing the chance for injury. Snow shovels have been designed to minimize exaggerated stooping and bending. Here is a good design for a snow shovel
Whenever possible, push the snow to the side of the shovel. When shoveling is the only way to move the snow, don’t stand flat-footed shoveling the snow repetitively, but rather take a scoop of snow and move your front foot towards the direction you’re going to throw the snow. This action minimizes the twisting action and strain placed upon your upper and lower back. It is as if you’re taking a step towards the direction you’re throwing the snow. Common sense is needed if the snow is heavy and wet; a smaller scoop equals less weight equals less chance of back injury.
Your general health has to be taken into consideration when shoveling snow. Heart health is a major concern. Every year many suffer heart attacks shoveling snow. People who have heart disease, prior myocardial infarction or heart attacks, heavy smokers and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to this serious problem. If you have any of these conditions, it is recommended that arrangements be made to have snow removal done by someone else.
There are some factors that contribute to not only back issues and problems but cardiovascular as well. These include the following:
- Eating a heavy meal before shoveling and not allowing your muscles to slowly warm up
- Drinking coffee, energy drinks or smoking before shoveling elevates the blood pressure
- Not taking periodic breaks – after shoveling for 15 minutes pause and rest for 5 minutes.
- Keep hydrated – Drink water or electrolyte-replacing liquids before and after the job is done. Dehydration can occur in cold weather as well as when it’s hot.
Using a snow blower does not preclude you from having a back injury. There are a couple of actions with gasoline-powered snow blowers that can contribute to neck, shoulder, or lower back problems.
- Starting the Machine – Pulling on the starter cord repetitively can injure the shoulder, upper back and lower back with the sudden pulling motion. Make sure you have a good footing and the engine is primed properly before pulling the starting cord.
- Pulling and Pushing – Trying to use the machine without the self-propelling mechanism can result in straining of the neck and upper back as well as the lower back from pushing, pulling and twisting the machine.
Preparing for snow removal is a health safety issue. It not only can affect the neck, back, and extremities, but also cardiovascular health. The principles for preparing for this winter event can also be carried forward with other outside winter activities regarding dress, exertion, dehydration, and overall health.
The doctors at Coon Rapids Chiropractic Office have experience in caring for wintertime neck and back complaints.