By Dr. Sagar S. Parikh
We may not have been hit by a true “Snowpacolypse” just yet but that doesn’t mean you still can’t injure yourself shoveling even a mere 5 inches of snow. Back injuries around the winter time most often revolve around improper shoveling techniques.
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The injuries can leave you in pain for months thereafter so it’s prudent to employ proper shoveling techniques and behaviors early on. Firstly, you need to know your limits. If you have known difficulty in cold weather (ie. Shortness of breath or asthma) or have a heart condition, it would probably be wise to find help before shoveling your driveway or walkway. There is no shame in hiring more able-bodied individuals to do so in severe conditions. Secondly, investing in an ergonomically contoured shovel (one with a curvilinear handle) will limit the degree of knee and back bending you would otherwise need to achieve. In addition, buying a shovel with light-weight yet durable plastic can reduce the total weight you yourself need to lift.
Now as for proper shoveling techniques, it’s best to think of yourself as a professional power lifter doing a routine squat exercise. Observe their form. They keep their back straight or even slightly arched, and bend at the hips and knees. This position allows you to distribute the strain of the lift on your more powerful legs and not your back which is less forgiving. Only lift a moderate amount of weight, however, if you find yourself lifting a heavy load, make sure you position one hand as close to the head of the shovel as possible with the other hand at the handle. This will give you more stability. It doesn’t hurt to widen your stance either. Also, when launching that snow pile away from your driveway, be sure not to engage in repetitive twisting motions with your torso. Instead, walk to where you want to deposit your load or if you must launch the snow pile, rotate your whole body.
We are most likely destined for more snow this season to practicing good technique is always a plus. Take breaks along the way and watch out for ice. When it’s all done, enjoy some hot tea or coffee and marvel at your achievement.