Living in the desert means we don’t have to deal with digging/shoveling through snow and ice, but there are still proper techniques, tools, body mechanics, posture, and core strength that we should pay attention to and apply to guard our spines and general health. It is no surprise that when shoveling many individuals experience muscle fatigue, low back strain, vertebral disc damage (herniated disc), and even spinal fractures.
A great deal of these injuries come from excessive stress to spinal structures by slip and fall accidents. Shoveling is a frequent cause of back pain and injuries. Injuries are not only limited to the musculoskeletal system but excessive shoveling can also place added stress on the cardiovascular system. Any hint of shortness of breath or chest pain, stop shoveling immediately but if symptoms continue, seek medical attention.
A study published indicated when handling heavy material with a shovel, the L5-S1 disc has been identified as the weakest link in the body. The most severe injuries along with pain are likely to occur in the back. Here are some tips to prevent injury.
Shoveling can be compared to weight lifting and intense aerobic exercise. To help your body function correctly consider the following tips:
- Eat long before shoveling so you have fuel but don’t cramp up.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks/beverages. Stimulants can increase heart rate and cause blood vessels to constrict.
- If you experience pain, stop immediately and get assistance.
- Pace yourself when shoveling.
- Take plenty of breaks.
- Drink plenty of water to rehydrate your body.
- For snow, if the ground is icy or slick, throw sand or salt to help create traction. But still be aware that some areas can still be uneven and cause you to slip, trip, or fall.
- Consider the weather before beginning the job.
- When it’s cold dress in layers, wear gloves, and a hat because a good amount of body heat is lost through the head. If icy cold, use a scarf.
- Wear clothing that is easy to move around in.
- Proper boots are essential for maintaining balance, traction and keeping feet warm/dry.
- Choose specialized work/blister-free gloves or thicker gloves, that allow for a good grip on the handle.
The Shovel That’s Right for You and the Job
Shovels come in different materials, purposes, shapes, and sizes.
- Choose an ergonomic shovel with a curved handle. These shovels help keep your back straight and reduce spinal stress.
- Hardware stores stock ergonomically designed shovels of all types.
- For snow maybe try a shovel with a plastic blade instead of metal as it’s lightweight.
- Sometimes a smaller blade is the way to go. You don’t shovel as much per load, but it weighs less and puts less strain on the spine.
- Don’t go for a cheap model if the job you are doing is heavy-duty. Your body will thank you.
Once you have your shovel take some time to learn the proper technique.
Technique is Key
- Take some time to stretch and prepare your body as warm muscles work better.
- Hand placement on the shovel is very important! Don’t grip with the hands close to each other.
- Keep some distance between the hands. This will give you more leverage and make it easier to lift.
- Think about proper posture and maintaining the natural curve of your spine.
- Address the task directly.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart to stay balanced.
- Try to keep the shovel close to your body. Holding a shovelful with arms outstretched puts added weight on your spine.
- Bend at the knees and not the waist or back.
- Tighten your stomach muscles as you lift.
- Lift with your legs and not your back.
- Dump the material in front of you. If you need to move the material to the side, move your feet.
- Do not twist your body.
- Scoop small amounts into the shovel
- Walk to where you want to dump it.
- Do not throw over your shoulder.
- Go forward with the material.
Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and stretch your back and body.
Power equipment is terrific, but if it’s not used correctly, you can still strain or injure your back.
Example: Snowblowers are designed to remove snow at a certain speed but pushing or forcing the equipment to go faster is defeating the purpose of the machine doing the work for you.
You may not realize that you hurt your back. But that little twinge you felt could change your life forever. Getting back to 100% of where you were before the injury could take time and treatment. So, do not take this activity lightly and remember prevention is the best defense.
Lower Back Pain Chiropractic Care El Paso, TX
Injuries that are caused by repetitive movements often develop gradually. It’s not until the symptoms get very painful and debilitating that the individual realizes that something is wrong. Don’t wait, as soon as you feel a tingle, slight pinch, or a little soreness and feel that it’s from your work, get in touch with a doctor or chiropractor.