Good morning Delmarva! Happy Snow Day to those of you who are enjoiying a day off. It's snowy weather out there but, we are OPEN. We understand many of our patients will choose not to go out today due to the slippery roads. If you have a scheduled appointment and wish to re-schedule to a different time or day please call the office at 410.219.5155. On the other hand, we are not busy; if you have been thinking about making an appointment, today would be a great day to do so. Please be safe out there if you choose to travel.
REMEMBER TO PROTECT YOUR BACK WHEN SHOVELING SNOW
10 Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling
With winter now upon us, and snow covering much of the Delmarva Peninsula, many of us are shoveling snow to clear their sidewalks and driveways. While most people recognize that snow shoveling is very hard work, and can put severe stress on your heart, fewer people recognize the stress and strain that it places on your back. So, as winter gets underway, we've outlined 10 tips for how to keep your back healthy when shoveling snow.
During the lifting portion of shoveling heavy snow, the lowest motion segment of the spine, the L5/S1 disc (i.e. the low back) has been identified as the weakest link in the bio mechanical chain. The most severe injuries and pain are likely to occur in this low back region.
Snow shoveling can place excessive stress on spinal structures. These stresses are a common cause of low back strains and vertebral disc damage as well as uneven loading on the supportive soft tissues (ligaments, tendons and muscles) of the spine creating sprains and strains. Fortunately, strains to the muscles of the low back, while painful, are not “medical emergencies”. Most strains will begin to heal after a few days and nearly all will resolve within 3-4 weeks. Sprains however, are different than a strain. A sprain is trauma to one or more of the ligaments that stabilize the joints of the body. Tearing of a ligament can cause joint swelling, pain, weakness and instability. Sprains typically take longer, usually 4-6 weeks in minor sprain or 6-8 weeks with major tearing.
Shoveling is a repetitive motion type of event with micro-trauma to the muscle fibers being a common sequela. This type of overuse trauma can cause delayed onset muscle soreness and spasm beginning anywhere from 6-12 hours after the event. Again, these types of injuries are not usually “emergencies” and will get better even without intervention.
The RICE Method of Acute Injury Treatment
Rest: Rest is vital to protect the injured muscle, tendon, ligament or other tissue from further injury. If injured, stop shoveling to the injured tissues from further damage. Avoid putting more weight or strain on the injured part. Resting the injured part is important to promote effective healing.
Ice: When icing an injury, choose a cold pack, crushed ice or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a thin towel to provide cold to the injured area. An ice massage is another extremely effective way to direct cold to the injured tissue. Cold provides short-term pain relief and also limits swelling by reducing blood flow to the injured area. When icing injuries, never apply ice directly to the skin (unless it is moving as in ice massage) and never leave ice on an injury for more than 20 minutes at a time. Longer exposure can damage your skin and even result in frostbite. A good rule is to apply cold compresses for 15 minutes and then leave them off long enough for the skin to re-warm.
Compression: Compression helps limit and reduce swelling, which may delay healing. Some people also experience pain relief from compression. An easy way to compress the area of the injury is to wrap an ACE bandage around the swollen part. If you feel throbbing, or if the wrap just feels too tight, remove the bandage and re-wrap the area so the bandage is a little looser.
Elevation: Elevating an injury help control swelling. It's most effective when the injured area is raised above the level of the heart. For example, if you injure an ankle, try lying on your bed with your foot propped on one or two pillows.
After a day or two of treatment, many sprains, strains or other injuries will begin to heal. But if your pain or swelling does not decrease or worsens after 72 hours, make an appointment to see your primary care physician or a chiropractor, depending upon the severity of your symptoms.
Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling
Having recognized that snow shoveling can injure your back, now lets look at tips to help you avoid such problems.
- Tip # 1.
If you experience pain of any kind, stop immediately and seek assistance.
- Tip # 2.
Choose a snow shovel that is right for you!
- Be sure that your shovel has a curved handle, as this enables you to keep your back straighter when shoveling.
- Obtain a shovel with an appropriate length handle. The length is correct when you can slightly bend your knees, flex your back 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands at the start of the "shoveling stroke".
- A plastic shovel blade will generally be lighter than a metal one, thus putting less strain on your spine.
- Sometimes, a smaller blade is better than a larger blade. Although a small blade can't shovel as much, it avoids the risk of trying to pick up a too heavy pile of snow with a larger blade.
- Tip # 3.
Push the snow, do not lift it. Pushing puts far less strain on the spine than lifting.
- Tip # 4.
Be sure your muscles are warm before you start shoveling. Cold, tight muscles are more likely to sprain or strain than warm, relaxed muscles.
- Tip # 5.
When you grip the shovel, make sure your hands are at least 12 inches apart. By creating distance between your hands, you increase your leverage and reduce the strain on your body.
- Tip # 6.
Your shoveling technique is very important. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends: "If you must lift the snow, lift it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovel of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once; do it piecemeal. Shovel and inch or two; then take another inch off. Rest and repeat if necessary." In addition to these comments, remember to move your feet rather than twisting.
- Tip # 7.
Never throw snow over your shoulder.
- Tip # 8.
Remember that wet snow can be very heavy. One full shovel load can weigh as much as 25 pounds.
- Tip # 9.
Pace yourself by taking frequent breaks to gently stretch your back, arms and legs.
- Tip #10.
Consider buying a snow-blower. When used correctly, a snow-blower will put far less strain on your back than snow shoveling.
By following these tips, you are far less likely to be injured while shoveling snow.
Finally, for those of us who are able bodied, it is always worth remembering neighbors on your block who might not be able to remove the snow from their sidewalks. A few minutes of help can make the world of difference to the well-being of a less able bodied person as well as make you a good neighbor!
Dr. Daniel Lane on Delmarva Life 01.14.2015
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