Avoiding back pain during the winter months can be difficult. Low temperatures make breathing during exercise more strenuous, cold muscles are prone to pulls and strain, and shorter days keep us indoors and less active. Inevitably there will be snow to shovel, a high-risk activity due to repetitive twisting and awkward lifting. Safe snow shoveling practices can help you avoid pain and give you the freedom to get out there and ski, skate, or whatever you enjoy doing to make the most of the opportunities a Canadian winter brings.
Take time to stretch before and after going outside and wear appropriate clothing that keeps your core warm. Stretching can be general and target large muscle groups; lunges, side-bends, and back extensions are all good examples. Avoid overexertion by taking breaks and splitting the task into smaller stages. During each break, you can stand up straight and walk around; the goal is to stay warm and moving while limiting repetitive motions.
Your body will be fit and ready for the task if you incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. This can include walking outside or on the track at your community centre, yoga at home, or a fitness routine before bed.
The appropriate shovel height should allow you to have a slight knee bend while comfortably holding the handle with hands at least 12 inches apart. Keep one hand close to the base of the shovel and move your hands further apart when requiring increased leverage. As always, lift with your legs and keep your back straight. Step in the direction of which you are dumping the snow and avoid twisting.
A smaller shovel blade will limit the temptation to pick up large piles of snow in a single lift.
Walk to where you want to dump the snow rather than throwing it; outstretched arms place undue strain on your back.
If you have difficulty completing a sentence in a single breath, it may be time for a break.
Physiotherapists are trained and skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of back injuries. If you are experiencing back pain, a physiotherapist can perform a comprehensive assessment to determine the source of your injury. At Midtown Physiotherapy, we aim to develop an individualised treatment program to manage pain and provide you with the education and tools to keep the pain away. This can include manual therapy, exercise, or modalities such as TENS or ultrasound to manage pain.
General physical conditioning is an important factor to trying to limit the risk of back pain. A physiotherapist can provide you with specific exercises to mobilise and strengthen your back and core while providing guidance and evidence-based feedback. Often this can be done over the course of just 1 or 2 sessions. Keep back pain away this winter so you can keep moving and enjoy your time outdoors.
This post is adapted from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) which presents educational references as a public service and for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CPA membership.
Adapted from: Canadian Physiotherapy Association for education purposes.