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Snow shoveling and low back injuries

As I’m sitting in my office finishing my lunch I’m seeing a lot of snow falling here in New England, and here I thought it was going to be an early spring.  If you are going to be getting up tomorrow morning and snow shoveling you are putting yourself at risk of low back injury and even a visit to the emergency room.  Recently a first of its kind study looked at injuries during snow removal; they found as much as 11,500 people per year visiting the emergency room for  injuries related to snow removal.  The majority of injuries were strains and sprains to the lower back, although broken bones, head injuries and heart problems were also related.

Source: The American Journal of Emergency Medicine

Photo: Public Domain

As a side note there are some simple things you can do to minimize your risk of lower back injuries during snow shoveling.

1) Get an angled show shovel.  You will see these anywhere you can get a traditional shovel, they have a right angle in about the lower half of the handle which lowers the shovel blade.  This gives you a lower center of gravity, allowing you to push the shovel with less trunk flexion.  Remember trunk flexion, especially trunk flexion with loading is what gets us into trouble.

2) Warm up.  Yes you should treat this as exercise, you are using your muscles, you are raising your heart rate, there is no reason not to warm up.  This results in less injury and a more uniform raising of your heart rate.  Warming up can be as simple as lightly shoveling for 5-10 minutes before you begin to do any heavy shoveling.  Make sure and you are clear to do exercise type activities with your doctor.

3) Bend at the knees.  Trunk flexion puts a heck of a lot of pressure on your spines and discs, anytime we can avoid trunk flexion with loading (the weight of the snow) we are ahead of the game.  Put your feet about shoulder width, keep the shovel close to your body, slightly bend your knees in a squat making sure your knees do not go out in front of your toes.  When you lift the snow keep it close to your body and lift with your knees, keep your low back in the neutral position and instead of tossing the snow make sure and walk over and deposit the snow.

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