How not to break your back shovelling snowFebruary 1, 2011
What could be more natural than a Canadian shovelling snow?
A Canadian with a back, arm or wrist injury, apparently.
The Ontario Chiropractic Association (OCA) conducted a survey of members and found that the most common cause of winter injury treated by chiropractors is careless snow shovelling.
“The number one reason is that people don’t realize how heavy the snow is,” explains Natalia Lishchyna, an Oakville chiropractor and vice president of the OCA. “A shovel full of snow is probably five to seven pounds, so it’s probably several hundred pounds per driveway. They go out there and try to do it all at once, and that’s when you get strains and sprains, or worse, a disc injury.”
When a bunch of people who don’t get enough exercise are faced with 20-30 centimetres of snow, their bodies just aren’t prepared, says Lischyna.
That’s why Ontario’s chiropractors have launched a public awareness campaign geared at encouraging people to Lift Light and Shovel Right.
Here are some tips for getting through the snow storm with your back intact.
Don’t let the snow pile up: “What we want people to think is, ‘Every two to three centimetres I should go out there and clear it off,” says Lischyna. “During a big storm, it could be every hour that you go out and clear it for a few minutes.” Frequent shovelling will allow you to move smaller amounts of snow at once. Plus, it makes you a better neighbour.
Warm up: As with any strenuous activity, you should take the time to warm up before shovelling. A 10- to 15-minute walk to your coffee shop could do it, followed by some simple stretching. “Don’t get out of bed and run out there to do the shovelling,” she says.
Pick the right shovel: Use a lightweight pusher-type shovel. Newer models are far more ergonomic. Snow is more likely to stick to a plain metal shovel so look for one that has a coating that encourages snow to slip off easily.
Push, don’t throw: Always push the snow to the side rather than throw it. This way you avoid lifting heavy shovelfuls of snow, and sudden twisting or turning movements. “Keep your nose between your toes,” says Lishchyna. “Keep your shovel within the line of sight instead of twisting your entire back.”
Bend your knees: If you find you do have to lift a shovelful of snow, handle it the way you would any heavy object. Use your knees and your leg and arm muscles to do the pushing and lifting, while keeping your back straight.
Take breaks: If you feel tired or short of breath, stop and take a rest. Shake out your arms and legs. Stop shovelling immediately if you feel chest pain or back pain. If you have back pain that is severe or that persists for more than a day after shovelling, see a chiropractor. If you have chest pain that is severe, see a medical doctor immediately.
“It’s not unusual for people to have some aches and pains after doing this kind of work,” says Lishchyna, who recommends five minutes of stretching when you’re done. “Don’t lie down and watch TV. Just before you go to bed, do a little bit of stretching again.”
You can expect to be a little sore for about a day. “If it’s going beyond a couple of days, seek professional help.”