WINTER has arrived and has shoveling!
If you have back pain, shoveling can be a hard ordeal. Chicago-land winters can produce large amounts of snow.
Here are some simple tips to protect your back during the upcoming winter.
Protect your back this winter by following these snow shoveling guidelines:
Warm up your muscles:
Cold muscles are more susceptible to injury, so warm up the large muscles in your lower back before heading out to shovel the snow. A light aerobic exercise program can help to warm up your body and get your blood moving. Stretching can be helpful as well, tight hamstrings can put extra stress across your lower back. For many with lower back pain, stretching the hamstrings by bending forward to touch your toes can make your pain worse by putting extra pressure on your spinal discs. If this is the case for you, think about visiting your Physical Therapist for specific safe stretches to increase your flexibility.
Use an ergonomic shovel:
It will help if you can minimize the degree you need to bend forward to shovel, so consider using a shovel with a curved handle, which will allow you to stay in a more upright stance. An adjustable length shovel can also let you shorten the handle length, so you are not straining to lift heavy snow that’s too far away from your body. Both of these factors will help take stress off your lower back. Finally, the lighter the shovel (e.g. plastic) the less weight you will need to hoist.
Pay careful attention to how you lift the snow:
Bend at your hips and with your knees, and lift with your leg muscles, not your back. Do not bend your back forward or twist your back at any point. Only lift an amount of snow that you can comfortably handle.
Find shoveling help whenever possible:
If you have lower back pain, snow shoveling is one of those activities that you should avoid whenever possible.
Here are some options to get you started thinking about how to avoid shoveling this year:
Find a volunteer to clear your snow. Many local nonprofit organizations, such as Boy Scouts, high schools and church youth programs require teens and young adults to provide a certain number of service hours in their community. Assisting someone with back pain by shoveling their driveways and walkways will almost always count towards their required minimum of service hours, so it’s a win-win: they will be helping you by shoveling your snow and you will be helping them fulfill their service requirements.
Use a snow blower instead of a shovel. When used correctly, a snow blower can take much of the stress of snow removal off your back. Use the power of your legs to propel the machine forward, keeping your back straight (don’t hunch forward) and your knees slightly bent.
Hire a snow removal service. The easiest option may be to hire a show removal service. Most local areas have a few options for this service: landscaping and lawn maintenance companies and handymen service companies commonly offer this service. While it is expensive, protecting your back is priceless.
As a final note, slipping on the snow or ice is a serious concern, especially if you already have a bad back. If you live in the Orland Park or Homer Glen Area and want information about therapy for a bad back please contact us for more information.
Steven Tijerina PT, DPT
Goodlife Physical Therapy