Winter is making an appearance in northern Nevada, and so we’re back to shoveling our driveways and sidewalks. Snow shoveling is a repetitive activity that can cause muscle strain to the lower back and shoulders. Back injuries due to snow shoveling are more likely to happen to people who aren’t conditioned for the activity, so here’s a quick primer about how to help you avoid injuries.
While the appearance of a winter wonderland in your front yard can be a welcome one, an accompanying aspect is not: the idea of clearing your driveway and sidewalks.
“Unfortunately, snow shoveling can lead to back injuries, especially since our Sierra snow is usually wet and heavy,” say Dina Barry PT, MPT, OCS, from Renown Physical Therapy and Rehab. “Remember to use good body mechanics and only shovel light loads of snow so you don’t end up with a back problem that doesn’t go away.”
If you do find yourself with back pain that doesn’t resolve in a couple of days, she advises, contact your primary health care provider and get a physical therapy referral. “Early treatment for low back pain is very successful at eliminating the cause of pain and reducing additional episodes in the future,” Barry says.
5 Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling
Following these tips from the official consumer information website of the American Physical Therapy Association can help you avoid injuries:
- Lift smaller loads of snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls. Be sure to bend your knees and lift with your legs, rather than your back.
- Use a shovel with a shaft that lets you keep your back straight while lifting. A short shaft will cause you to bend more to lift the load. Using a shovel that’s too long makes the weight at the end heavier. Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow to prevent the low back from twisting. This will help prevent “next-day back fatigue.”
- Avoid excessive twisting, because the spine cannot tolerate twisting as well as it can tolerate other movements. Bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible, so that you are lifting with your legs.
- Take frequent breaks when shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.
- Backward bending exercises while standing will help reverse the excessive forward bending of shoveling: stand straight and tall, place your hands toward the back of your hips and bend slightly backward for several seconds.
By following these tips, you’ll spend more time appreciating your winter wonderland — when your sidewalk and driveway are all clear, that is.