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Top Ten List to Avoid Low Back Injury While Shoveling!

Posted Jan 10 2012 12:29pm

Every Winter the snow falls and most people don’t think twice about grabbing that shovel and heading out the door to shovel the walk, driveway or dig the car(s) out. Every winter I get people coming in to see me for relief from their aching back. Most of the time it is their lower back that has seized up, or as I like to say - went into spasm.

These injuries are preventable for the most part. One needs to properly prepare mind & body for this work. Below I will put forth some wisdom that I have found while researching this topic along with some of my own thoughts.

Duke University, has put out a wonderful injury prevention guide on their website, just follow the link below.
http://www.durhamregional.org/healthlibrary/consumer_health/20070124155742141

Here is my very own Top Ten List! I am always talking or writing about recovering from an injury, so I thought it would be nice to write about preventing a low back injury.

First of all before attempting any strenuous exercise make sure you have been cleared for it by your doctor. Don’t kid yourself, snow shoveling is strenuous exercise! Just check out the amount of calories you burn per minute while shoveling snow.

Activity Your Weight in pounds
105 – 115 Snow shoveling - light 7.9cal p/m Snow shoveling - heavy 13.8cal p/m

127 – 137 Snow shoveling - light 9.1cal p/m Snow shoveling - heavy 15.7cal p/m

160 – 170 Snow shoveling - light 10.8cal p/m Snow shoveling - heavy 18.5cal p/m

180 - 200 Snow shoveling - light 12.5cal p/m Snow shoveling - heavy 20.5cal p/m

1. Make sure you are fit for this activity physically.
2. Warm-up first. You will be using muscles that probably have not been used in a while. Make sure to warm your low back, shoulders and legs.
3. Go slow. Shoveling snow should not be a race.
4. Shovel in shifts. Waiting until it has stopped snowing before shoveling can leave you with a bigger job.
5. Shovel in layers. Believe it or not snow has weight to it when it is sitting on your shovel. Scooping up snow from the bottom of a pile is much more difficult than scooping it in layers, starting from the top.
6. When lifting a shovel full of snow, bend at the knees and then lift. Putting all that strain on the small muscles of the low back is more work than they were designed for. Use those powerful thigh muscles.
7. Don’t fill the shovel to the brim. What works for coffee, does not translate into snow shoveling. Better to do more reps than more weight. This by the way is advice I give to my patients who are weight lifters. Stamina is more important than shear strength.

8. Pick a shovel that is appropriate to your size. Don’t use one that is either to big or too small. Go to the hardware store(s) and try out different shovels. See which one works best for you.
9. Go through your warm-up routine again once you are finished shoveling. This will help the body cool down properly.
10. Dress appropriately. Too much bulk will not allow you to move properly. Too few layers and you will not stay warm – bad for the muscles and for the rest of your body as well.

To quote of a Civil War song (that was later co-opted to another war) "Billy, don't be a hero! Don't be a fool with your life!
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