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Injury Breakdown: Snow Shoveling Safety Tips

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A car is buried in snow as people attempt to shovel out in Manhattan's East Village December 27, 2010 in New York City. A blizzard pounded the East Coast of the United States delivering 20 inches of snow to New York City while snarling post-Christmas travel. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A car is buried in snow as people attempt to shovel out in Manhattan’s East Village December 27, 2010 in New York City. A blizzard pounded the East Coast of the United States delivering 20 inches of snow to New York City while snarling post-Christmas travel. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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By Abby Sims
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Are you stuck with the unwelcome task of shoveling snow? I’ve got your back! Snow is pretty heavy, especially the really wet stuff. If you haven’t been hitting the gym regularly or training for snow shoveling as your sport of choice, you may be waking up with some aches and pains. Here are a few tips to dig yourself out a little more safely.

1. Avoid holding your breath

Optimize the function of your respiratory system and utilize the more efficient aerobic mechanism for supplying your muscles with energy. In addition, you may get lightheaded or feel a headache coming on if you hold your breath.

2. Bend from your hips and knees, NOT your back

Just as when you do a squat, ski, or even sit back into a chair, lean your upper body forward from your hips and knees while you balance your weight over your feet by leading and reaching back with your butt. Practice by doing squats to a chair without allowing your rear end to touch the chair.

3. Maintain a neutral spine

That means neither bending nor arching away from your midrange comfort zone. For some, neutral is a flattened low back, for others a very mild arch, but it is never the rounded back you will see when you observe some people shoveling.

To maintain neutral you will have to engage your abdominal and low back muscles, working the low back extensors most as you bend, to stabilize your low back and keep it from rounding. Emphasize (contract) your abdominals as you reach and rise. The heavier the load you are shoveling, the harder your muscles should work to keep your spine in neutral.

4. Avoid reaching too far

Shovel the snow close to you – the more outstretched your arms are when you lift, the heavier the snow effectively becomes, placing a greater strain on your low back. To understand this better, imagine playing on a see-saw when you were a kid. The farther you sat from the center axis, the “heavier” you became and you could keep your friend on the other end up in the air at will!

5. Lift from your legs

Just as when you lift a heavy box from the floor, rise from your knees and hips to avoid overdoing the effort on your arms and back.

6. Consider wearing an abdominal belt

Some studies have shown that wearing a belt for heavy lifting activities raises intra-muscular pressure of the back muscles (erector spinae) and in doing so helps to stabilize the low back (lumbar spine) during lifting exertions.

7. Pivot to avoid excess twisting of your trunk

Just as with a golf swing, allow your hips to move with your shoulders so that you require less rotation of your spine. For example, a right-handed golfer pivots over his right foot during his swing and follow-through while his left foot remains firmly in contact with the ground. When you are moving the snow from here to there, pivot over your back foot while turning your trunk toward the opposite side.

8. If the snowfall was a big one, lift and move it in layers to limit the weight

You don’t have to dig all the way down to the sidewalk with each maneuver.

9. Take rest breaks and be sure to stay hydrated

You may not realize how much you are actually exerting when you shovel snow. Drink before you get thirsty to avoid dehydration and rest to stay strong and refreshed.

10. Buy a snowblower, hire the kid next door or move to California!

11. A final caution

Delegate the shoveling if you have a cardiac history, a significant history of low back problems or are suffering from a shoulder or knee injury.

Follow Abby’s fitness/wellness tips on twitter @abcsims & read more about her work at www.RecoveryPT.com

pixy Injury Breakdown: Snow Shoveling Safety Tips
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