It’s been reported that this is the longest and coldest winter in over 20 years. Before we entered the month of March we had 31 extreme cold weather alerts in 58 days, this came on heels of the Christmas Ice Storm of 2013 – Happy New Year! We have also had a lot more snow than we have had in many winters. Suffice it to say we have to keep our chin up and a smile on our face as we participate in the local winter Olympic events of snow shoveling, salting and ice breaking. GoCanada!
Unfortunately, but predictably, with snow and ice on the roads and sidewalks we can expect an increase in accidents and injuries. A number of patients at my clinic have been involved in either motor vehicle accidents, slips and falls on icy pathways or hurt their back shoveling their way out (or into) their driveways this winter.
Some of these events are difficult to avoid and are often beyond our control. Such is often the case in a motor vehicle accident in which one, perhaps moving to closely and too fast on a snowy or icy road, slips right into another vehicle. Motor vehicle accidents can of course cause significant injuries to the persons involved requiring many weeks, sometimes months of rehabilitative care to restore your normal health and function. We are helping a number of people in these situations right now.
On the other hand, when it comes to snow shovelling and reducing the risk to injury to ourselves we have quite a bit more control. As a chiropractor I have seen a number of patients this winter come in with a sore back after shovelling snow. The Ontario Chiropractic Association has developed a useful Lift Light. Shovel Right campaign to help Ontarians reduce the risk of injury when snow shovelling.
It’s no surprise that shovelling snow can be a pain and lead to injury when you consider that each shovelful of snow weights about 6 pounds. Add to that the repetitive nature of pushing, lifting and throwing the snow, sometimes to the top of snow drifts that are over 4 feet high, and you can appreciate the strain on muscles and the wear and tear on joints in your back, shoulders and arms. I try to implement these tips personally and share them with my patients.
First things first, dress for the weather. Layers is the best way to go. If you get too warm you can remove a layer to maximize comfort. Personally, my feet and hands are the first to get cold, so warm, water proof boots and gloves are a must. Warm-up. Just like any other form of exercise, spend a few minutes preparing your body for the work out, that could include a short walk and stretching before starting to shovel.
Shovel when the snow is light, even if this means more frequent shovelling, and use a light weight push shovel. This will make the task much more manageable. Push rather than throw. Push the snow to the side, rather than throwing it there. When you have to lift, bend your knees and use your powerful leg and arm muscles to lift the snow keeping your back straight. And try to avoid twisting when lifting which can also increase the risk of injury. Don’t forget to keep hydrated. Again, just like any other form of exercise you need to stay hydrated, drink lots of water before, during and after shovelling. Remember – if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Please remember to take breaks if you feel tired or short of breath. Shake out your arms and legs to recharge.
Lastly, stop shovelling if you experience back or chest pain. If the chest pain is severe, seek a medical doctor immediately. If the back, joint or muscle pain persists for more than a few days consult a chiropractor for an evaluation. Many people injure themselves each winter shovelling snow, hopefully you won’t be one of them.
Overall if we follow these useful tips found in the Lift Light. Shovel Right. guide (which can be found at chiropractic.on.ca website), snow shovelling can be a rather pleasant physical activity rather than a burden. I know a few people who actually enjoy shovelling snow (I might be one of them). Hopefully spring is just a few weeks away and we can exchange our buckets of salts and snow shovels for a rake and garden spade, Until then, lift light and shovel right.
Dr. Christopher J. Morga n is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the Past President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. He can be reached at 416-447-7600 or email@example.com