Winter has come! The temperature is dropping and soon snow will be coming with it. Anyone who has had to shovel out their car in the winter time knows what a pain it can be; figuratively and literally! You may be thinking that snow won’t be coming anytime soon, but it is never too late to get prepared. Here are some tips to protect you back while clearing the sidewalk, driveway, or digging out your car.
The proper tool can make all the difference. An ergonomically designed shovel is best for your spine, and will help you avoid unnecessary exertion. Look for a snow shovel with a long enough handle so you can remain as upright as possible. Shovels with thicker handles can decrease fatigue in your hands.
Snow shoveling can be a workout in and of itself. It can lead to multiple hours of work, especially if you have a long driveway or walkway. To get prepared for eventual snow fall, you should be doing some kind of moderate intensity exercise at least five days per week. A combination of exercises is best – cardiovascular to build endurance, resistance training to build strength, and core exercises to strengthen your back. When it comes time for snow shoveling, you need to warm-up your muscles and your spine a bit before you are ready to go. Walk in place or do some jumping jacks, do a few core exercises or body weight squats, and some gentle range of motion exercises for your shoulders and hips. Your back and body will thank you for it later.
Keep your legs slightly bent, weight centered between your feet, and your back straight. From that position, engage your core before moving the snow. Pushing the snow on the ground is better than continuously lifting it from one place to another. This keeps you from twisting and over extending your back. When pushing the snow, you want to take shorter steps to avoid slipping on underlying ice. Shorter steps will also make pushing easier. If you get to a point where you have to lift the snow, don’t overfill the shovel as it can be heavy. Bend at the hips and knees and not the back. Keep your arms close into your body, and try not to overextend.
You put yourself at a higher risk of injury if you have not been conditioned to tolerate long hours of work. Keep your shoveling sessions to 15-30 minutes with enough of a break to rest fully in between sessions, especially if the snow fall is over. If you are expecting heavy amounts of snow, starting early and staying on top of things may be better than waiting for all of the snow to fall…unless you don’t have anywhere you need to be! If that’s the case, then just make sure you are well provisioned with non-perishable food, water, and a few good books in case you are snowed in for a few days.
As I mentioned above, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Assess the weather situation before deciding to face the elements. It may be wiser to kick your feet up in your favorite chair, and wait for the snow to melt. It certainly is more relaxing! If you do need to get your paths and car cleared, but worry about injuring yourself in the process – it may be best to pay someone in your neighborhood to clear the snow for you.
There is an art and science to snow shoveling. If you do end up injuring your back while shoveling, the physicians at Virginia Spine Institute are here to help you with the most comprehensive care possible. We will come up with a customized treatment plan designed to alleviate your pain, and get you back outside to enjoy the winter weather.