The winter season is already upon us. While we look forward to the holiday festivities that accompany the early winter months, some may not be looking forward to the hard work required to remove snow from our driveways and walkways. It is well known that shoveling snow can lead to acute low back pain (LBP), or possibly exacerbate old back injuries. Even if we are careful with our shoveling and lifting mechanics, we can never fully eliminate the possibility of injuring our neck or back. However, we can certainly take some action to reduce the risk.
For healthy individuals who have never dealt with an episode of low back pain, it can be very debilitating. LBP is one of the leading causes of visits to the primary care physician and time off of work. Before attempting to shovel snow, you should perform some basic warm up exercises. This may take roughly 10 minutes to complete. Taking 10 minute to warm up is well worth the effort when you consider the consequences of dealing with an acute onset of LBP. Exercise increases flexibility and improves muscle tolerance to heavy lifting.
If you happen to be an individual who has dealt with LBP in the past, or required surgical intervention for a spine condition, you may be at greater risk for re-injuring your back or neck. Many people who have dealt with a spine condition in the past have likely participated in some form of rehabilitation or conservative treatment. Try to recall some of those exercises you were prescribed in the past. You can use some of those basic exercises to warm up the muscles and joints in your body prior to snow removal. For post-operative spine patients, you may want to consult with your spine specialist to see if you should be removing snow in the first place.
In summary, warm up your joints with basic range of motion exercises, use good body mechanics, and try to lift with your legs. When carrying a shovel full of snow, try to keep the load close to your body. This reduces the stress on your back. Take a minute to evaluate what type of snow you are dealing with. Wet snow equates to heavier load, presenting the need to shovel in smaller increments. Lastly, look at your shovel. Some shovels are designed to handle bigger loads, and bigger loads increase the risk of injury. If you are not sure what exercises to perform, schedule an appointment at Prairie Spine and Pain Institute. Our physical therapy department can perform a comprehensive evaluation and prescribe an exercise program that’s right for you.
About The Author: Jeremy W. Przybylo, PT, DPT, DMT is the Prairie Spine and Pain Institute’s lead physical therapist. He is a key component of our integrated care program. Jeremy works one-on-one with patients to perform an initial evaluation that allows him to design a comprehensive treatment program tailored to each individual. He typically works with patients weekly, utilizing a combination of hands on manual therapeutic techniques and a scientific approach to rehabilitative exercise.