It’s winter here in Northeast Ohio, which means a variety of things. But for most of us, snow comes with an all-too-common chore: shoveling driveways and sidewalks. Although it may look pretty and fluffy, snow can be remarkably – and deceivingly – heavy. That’s why I wanted to talk about a big health risk for that big snow storm.
Shoveling snow can cause a variety of injuries, but I want to focus on the possible lower-back implications. It is not possible to keep the snow from falling onto our driveways and sidewalks, so how can you protect your back while shoveling?
Let’s look quickly at the lower back. We have discussed the lower back previously when we talked about disc herniations, but I want to hit some of the highlights here, as well. The lower back is a combination of vertebra and soft tissue providing support and structure. Previously, we focused on the vertebra and discs. Now, I want to focus on the muscles and ligaments surrounding the spine and how they can help with the problem of shoveling snow.
The lumbar spine has a number of supporting muscles that help to take the pressure off the vertebra and discs. The lumbar paraspinal, core/abs (abdominal and oblique muscles) and leg muscles all work together to lift, push, pull and provide movement. The best way to protect your back is to decrease the pressure on the spine. Proper lifting technique says, “Bend at the knees, not at the waist.” Bending at the knees puts much more stress and strain on the muscles in the legs rather than on the vertebra. Conversely, when you bend at the waist, most if not all the strain moves directly to the discs, creating increased strain.
So, as you see the snow fall, be mindful of how you are lifting and moving as you go outside. Try as much as you can to push the snow rather than lift it. Pushing the shovel allows you to keep the proper posture and will also allow you to use your legs more than your back. Not only does lifting increase the weight your back is supporting, but while shoveling, you also must bend forward to hold the shovel. This significantly increases the pressure on the lower back. Also, when you do have to lift, do not throw the snow to the side or behind you. Twisting is the biggest stressor, and it’s very hard on the lower back. Sometimes, the snow will get the better of you. In situations like that, chiropractic can help to get you (and your back) back on track.