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Tips to Avoid Winter Back Injuries

by Brian Wolfe, DPT, OCS

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As the Northeast braces for another bout of winter weather expected to produce a heavy amount of snowfall, Evolution Physical Therapy is offering tips on how to properly shovel snow to minimize the risk of injury.

Snow-shoveling involves repetitive heavy lifting that requires us to lift, hold, push and throw in various ways that our bodies haven’t necessarily trained for. Shoveling without proper body mechanics can lead to low back, neck and shoulder injuries if you're not being conscious of your positioning.

To prevent or minimize back injuries while shoveling snow:

  • Lift small loads of snow rather than heavy shovelfuls. Take care to bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than with your back.

  • Use a shovel with a handle that lets you keep your back straight while lifting. A short handle will cause you to bend more to lift the load. Using a shovel that's too long makes the weight at the end heavier.

  • Because the spine is less able to tolerate twisting compared to other movements, it's important to avoid twisting as much as possible. Step in the direction in which you're throwing the snow to prevent the low back from twisting. This will help avoid low back pain the following morning typically thought of as soreness.

  • Take frequent breaks when shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.

  • Standing and lying backward-bending exercises will help reverse the excessive forward bending that occurs while shoveling: stand straight and tall, place your hands toward the back of your hips, and bend backward slightly for several seconds.

With proper precautions and the correct snow-shoveling technique, injuries to the shoulders and lower back can often be avoided. If you or someone you know has back pain, consult a licensed physical therapist. Physical therapists are experts in restoring and improving motion in people's lives. They can treat pain without surgery, in many cases, and reduce the need for prescription medications, helping patients avoid side effects. Give us a call today!

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