• Dr. Nicole Knapp

Protect your back!

This is Wisconsin, so we know the white stuff is coming sooner or later!

When you’re buried in snow, your first thought may be to grab your shovel. But if you are not prepared, you are putting yourself at risk for strain or serious injury. Shoveling can be a strenuous activity. Warming up your muscles, using the right shovel and technique are key to minimizing your health risks.

The following snow removal tips can help you to avoid low back injuries and pain during the snowy winter season:

  • Choose an ergonomic shovel. This can help take some of the effort out of snow removal by helping you stand straighter and lessen stress on your back.

  • Warm-up before you go out. Cold tight muscles are more prone to injury. Doing 5–10 minutes of stretches before you go out to help loosen up your back and prep you for shoveling. Focus on your low back and hamstrings.

  • Pay attention to your technique. Whenever possible, push the snow to one side rather than lifting it.  If you do lift the snow, keep your abs drawn in and your back flat. Lift by lowering your hips and using your legs. Avoid twisting your back to move the snow. Try to pivot the whole body. Try not to throw the snow.  Walk the snow to its new location.

  • Stretch after shoveling. Once your are done, stretch for 5–10 minutes to loosen up the muscles in the low back and hamstrings that were used during shoveling.

Here are seven simple stretches to do before (and after) shoveling snow:

  1. Foam Roll Back: Lay on top of the foam roller. Roll from the small of you back to the wide of your back. Roll 5–10 times to identify areas off tightness. Hold at these points for 20–30s.

  2. Foam Roll Hamstrings: Sit on top of the foam roller. Roll from the base of your hips to the top of the back of your knee (the length of the hamstring). Roll 5–10 times to identify areas off tightness. Hold at these points for 20–30s. You may also do this with just one leg instead of two by sliding to the edge of the roller.

  3. 3pt Hamstring Stretch: place your right foot up on a raised surface. Keeping your right leg completely straight and right toe pulled back toward you, lean forward with a straight back until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 20–30s. Maintaining the lean, rotate your torso so that your right shoulder points to your right foot. Hold for 20–30s. Still maintaining your forward lean, rotate your torso so that your left shoulder is pointing towards your right foot. Hold for 20–30s. Repeat with left leg.

  4. “A” stance Hamstring Stretch: Stand with your feet wide. Cross your arms and fall forwards with your upper body. Allow the weight of your arms to pull you to the ground. Hold this for 20–30s.

  5. Door Frame Low Back Stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart in a door frame. Reach down with both hands to the bottom left hand side of the frame. Bend your knees as you do this. Grab the door frame and shift your weight to your right and raise your right hip up. Hold for 20–30s.  Repeat with the other side.

  6. Knee to Chest Stretch: Lay on your back. Pull both knees to your chest and hold for 20–30s.

  7. Cat/Cow Stretch: Position yourself in the quadruped position, on your hands and your knees face down. Keep your hands as wide as your shoulder and your knees in line with your hands. Your start position will be a straight/neutral back. Round your back up like a cat and hold for 5 seconds. Arch your back and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat this 10 times.

Snow shoveling can be safe and injury-free (not to mention great exercise), if you prepare your muscles, choose an ergonomically-friendly shovel, and maintain proper technique.

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