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Low-Back Safety: Tips for Winter Shoveling

For those of us in the Northeast US, and anywhere with heavy snowfall, navigating through the “Dog Days” of winter is tough enough without adding a low-back strain or injury to the mix.

Prevention: The best way to avoid injury is to avoid the shoveling if you can 🙂

If you have to shovel, Here are some simple reminders and ideas to help you stay safe!

  1. Before you Shovel, PLEASE, do some yoga stretches down on the floor for low back, hips, and obliques.
  2. Buy or borrow a snow-blower.
  3. Please use an “ergonomic” shovel, the kind with an extra bend in the handle to help with the lifting.  
  4. Body Mechanics—When we bend forward, with our head out in front of shoulders and hips, we put extra strain on our neck and shoulder muscles, and in turn the cervical vertebrae. The longer you stay in this position, the more strain you are adding and the more pain you will end up in. If you are normally sitting at a computer or over a steering wheel during the day, the effect will also be one of over-stretching the muscles and ligaments that are meant to keep the cervical spine in place. Add to that the motion of shoveling and the weight of the snow in the shovel, and you can easily create some BIG KNOTS in your neck and shoulders!
  5. Pushing snow forward (or any weight) is always a preferable motion to pulling it.
  6. Make sure to keep your elbows slightly bent as you push, so that your muscles are working and you’re not grinding down your cartilage in the joints. A slight bend in the knees will also go a long way in protecting those joints—stay mindful so that you don’t forget to bend!
  7. When you are out there with shovel or snow blower, stay mindful of your twisting and turning with the spine—remember to take a deep inhale before turning your mid-body, this will allow the discs some room to expand and you can avoid herniation or nerve impingement.
  8. Shovel in small amounts—take lots of breaks.
  9. Shovel with a partner—spouse, adult child, neighbor, friend—many hands make for lighter work.
  10. Keep your cell phone in your pocket in case of emergency, ESPECIALLY if you end up having to shovel alone.
  11. Keep your knees slightly bent even as you CARRY snow in your shovel; do your best to stay upright and keep elbows in to your sides.
  12. Whenever possible, keep the shovel on the ground and PUSH the snow aside; it’s the safest way to go.
  13. Switch the shovel to your other hand/arm every 10–15 minutes, giving each side an even workout.
  14. Use deep, deliberate breaths in and out to stay fully present in the moment, tuning into your body and recognizing your physical limitations.
  15. Allow yourself to STOP when you feel fatigued instead of pushing through—that’s when injuries are most likely to happen.
  16. Do some yoga stretches when you come back inside—get down on your back, knees into chest, half-frog on your belly, you can also swing your legs over a chair or sofa and stay there for five minutes.  This will loosen up the low back and hip muscles.
  17. If you have a heating pad or a neck/shoulder wrap, use them!!  You will sleep a lot better and release lots of tension BEFORE there is any muscle spasm, etc.
  18. Have some medicinal hot chocolate (low sugar) or herbal tea when you come back inside 🙂

If you already HAVE a low back, hip, or knee problems, you really have no business going out and removing the snow. It’s worth it to spend some money to have someone else do the work and avoid hurting yourself!

Lastly, take a break from the gym workouts if you’ve been shoveling snow; that’s plenty of cardio!! BUT DON’T SKIP YOGA!! Yoga is different. Even if you are sore, the stretching is really good for your neck and whole spine!! You will be very happy you went to class when you are relaxing on your back in savasana.

Take care and be safe out there!

Previously posted on bostonwellnesscenter.com; reprinted with permission.