As Christmas nears, there is a lot of excitement in the air. While images of winter sports, Christmas and beautiful snow keep us warm with cooler weather, many of us are working frantically to change seasons around the house. The interior décor changes, the lawn mowers get put away with the rakes and trimmers…and the snow shovel comes out.
As beautiful as snow is while it falls, it can be a (literal) pain in the back to move and lift, especially when in a hurry. Through my years in practice, I have consistently found those first few snowfalls to be the worst on my patients. The typical scenario is being in a rush to clear a lot of heavy snow, first thing in the morning. This urgency combined with the repetitive bending, lifting and twisting that is associated with shoveling are sure fire risk factors for an acute low back episode.
As a way of advocating for healthier spine mechanics and safe lifting practices, the Ontario Chiropractic Association promotes the ‘’Lift Light to Shovel Right’’ campaign every winter, and is something you will often hear chiropractors touting in the hallways and treatment rooms of their practices, or from the end of their driveways as they wave at their neighbors – (guilty).
Like any activity, preparation is key. Wearing the right clothing to stay dry and utilizing layers in order to keep warm, while at the same time avoid overheating. Remember to wear the right footwear too, as you need to ensure a firm grip while navigating the winter wonderland that used to be your driveway. While a lifting injury can be quite painful, a slip and fall can be devastating.
Next up is picking the right shovel! Your shovel should be lightweight, ideally with a curved handle. This type of handle design is more ergonomically friendly, making it easier to lift the snow, reducing fatigue and muscle strain. People often want to pick a shovel with a wide blade in order to move more snow faster, but the correct option is a smaller blade. Snow can be quite heavy, so you don’t want to overload your shovel and wear yourself out to quickly. (Life Hack – spray a little silicone based lubricant on the shovel to keep the snow from sticking. This keeps the shovel lighter by avoiding packed-on build-up.)
Hydrate. Stretch and move a little before you start, to get warmed up. Hydrate some more. These are all very well accepted practices for other winter sports, but quickly ignored when clearing the drive or walkways. Often times these simple adjustments can be a game changer for the spine.
The last elements of saving your spine when shoveling snow are to push the snow as often as you can, bend your knees to use your legs when you have to lift and take breaks. Trying to rush through as quickly as possible rarely works for any job, and taking your time will make it more likely for you to make a snow fort with the kids when you get home from work.
Despite the winter feeling so long, the snow does tend to go away quicker than we would like. This winter, spend your time outside doing the things you love, not on the couch nursing a sore back.
Dr. Robert Rodine is a chiropractor with Optimum Health: Chiropractic, Massage & Fitness in Smiths Falls and Cordick Chiropractic & Optimum Health Clinic in Perth.