Snow fun and back pain

Man shoveling snow

Many people dream of a white Christmas, but they probably don’t think about the aftermath. Shoveling snow is a chore and one that can do some serious damage to your back if you’re not careful.

If you’ve ever wondered what improper shoveling can do your back, Susan Grassl, PT, has your answers. She is one of the physical therapists at North Colorado Medical Center’s rehab center.

Grassl notes the most commonly injured part of the body is the back due to poor lifting mechanics or lifting too heavy of a load. Extremities can also be injured, such as shoulders and knees.

“Often times, they are minor strains and sprains; however, they can be more serious requiring medical attention,” said Grassl.

Common-sense tips to keep your back safe

Before heading out into the cold to clear your sidewalk, Grassl and the other physical therapists have a few recommendations to help you avoid an injury:

  • Do some general stretching to prepare your body for the work at hand.
  • When shoveling, make sure you bend at the knees and not the waist.
  • Push the snow rather than lifting it and never throw it over your shoulder.
  • Keep your feet and hips pointed in the same direction you are pushing the snow to keep from twisting of the spine.

If you do feel pain in your back, Grassl says it’s probably time to take a break.

“Using ice or heat and maintaining light mobility may improve pain,” Grassl says. “If pain persists for more than a few days, it wouldn’t hurt to check in with your physician.”

To go along with Grassl’s tips, the American Physical Therapy Association published some tips on their website. Here are some of them:

  • Smaller loads of snow are easier to move than a full shovel and always bend and lift with the knees – not the back.
  • Keep your back straight while lifting, which means you’ll need to find a shovel with an appropriate length handle.
  • Take breaks from the shoveling. Go inside and grab a cup of coffee or make sure to stand up straight to stretch the lower back.
  • Counter excessive forward bending by standing straight and tall, placing your hands toward the back of your hips and slightly bending backwards for several seconds.

If the aches and pains of shoveling snow weren’t enough, Grassl states that you also have to consider your heart.

“Snow shoveling is also taxing cardiovascularly,” she says. “If you are relatively sedentary or don’t typically exercise, take it slow and take multiple rest breaks.”

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