If you are lucky enough to have a snow blower or a cooperative teenage boy in your home, this post is not for you.  If you are like the rest of the Indianapolis residents who experienced the largest snowfall in over a decade and all you have is a plastic snow shovel…this post is for you.

Heavy snows and freezing temperatures can lead to all types of injuries from simple slip and falls to even death.  According to the Indy Star there have already been multiple deaths associated with the snow storm that paralyzed the Indianapolis area.  Most people are not in their top physical shape coming out of the holidays;  asking our bodies to perform heavy physical activity will leads to injury and typically back pain.  At Compass Chiropractic we see a lot of patients who underestimate the physical requirements of snow shoveling and end up injuring themselves.

The following is a video from Channel 13 (WTHR ) when they came to our office in 2009 to do a story on snow shoveling injuries.

Low back pain is the most common complaint that we see in the office following a snow shoveling injury, but it is not the only complaint associated with these injuries.  We also see patients with neck pain, shoulder pain, knee pain and even headaches from snow shoveling injuries.

In the following picture you will find the the most important things you can do to prevent  injuries while snow shoveling.

snow shoveling1

Stretching: Before getting out to do a strenuous workout like snow shoveling, it is important to warm up with some dynamic stretching.  Dynamic stretching involves going through movements that simulate the activity that you will be performing. For example you would want to move through some rotation movements to make sure the muscles in the lower back are sufficiently warmed up prior to snow shoveling.  Static stretching involves holding a stretch for an extended period of time (15-60secs).  Static stretching is more beneficial following the activity (snow shoveling) when you are warmed up and ready to cool down.  For more information on dynamic and static stretching check out: We’re not pulling your leg….it’s stretching.

Keep the back straight:  The most important thing you can do to prevent back injuries is to keep your back straight.  The lower back is in it’s most vulnerable state when it is bent forward (flexion).  Adding rotation (twisting) to flexion increases the load on the back and puts even more stress on the back. Try to limit the amount of rotation you do while in a flexed forward position by waiting until you are upright to rotate.

Brace the Core: In order to give your spine the stability it needs you must brace the core muscles.  To learn how to brace your core muscles check out this video: abdominal bracing.  Abdominal bracing will give you the support that you need to lift a heavy weight (snow in this case) out in front of your body.  Make sure that you are not sucking you abdominal muscles in; this will decrease your stability and leave your lower back vulnerable to injury.

Sit back into the squat: Our butt muscles are big for a reason, they are there to help up in situations like lifting heavy weights.  Because many of us sit the majority of the day we are not accustomed to using our glut (butt) muscles.  When going into a lift–like snow shoveling– you want to sit back into the lift instead of leaning forward. This position will allow you to recruit the glut muscles and decrease the stress on the lower back.

Keep  your knees behind your toes: We’ve talked a lot about how to prevent low back injuries, but what about the knees? Typically the repetitive stress injuries to the knees don’t show up at the time of an injury like low back injuries do.  Knee pain often shows up the next time you put stress on the knees (e.g. going up stairs).  To prevent injuring your knees it is important to keep the knees from going over the toes when you squat.  When the knees go over the toes, there is increased load on the knees which leads to inflammation and ultimately knee pain.

Keep your shoulders down and back: Hiking the shoulders up while lifting is very common (especially in the cold) and can lead to shoulder impingement and neck injuries.  After you brace your core, make sure your shoulder blades are pulled back toward your spine (midline) and down toward your lower back.  This is the place of strength for your neck and shoulders and will prevent unnecessary stress and injuries.

What if you hurt yourself?
After being out in sub-zero temperatures the last thing you will want to do is put ice on an injured area, but it is exactly what you need to do.  Injuries to the muscles and supporting structure cause inflammation, which causes pain signals to fire.  Limiting the inflammation will decrease the pain.

Keep moving: Bed rest has been shown to have negative effects on recovery.  You do want to keep moving but “no pain no gain” is not the mantra you want to follow.  You want to move slowly in a pain-free range of motion.  Light stretching and gentle movements will help you recover faster and decrease the firing of pain signals.

Anti-inflammatories: There are a number of over the counter anti-inflammatory medications on the market, (eg Advil, Motrin etc).  While these medications do have anti-inflammatory properties they also present significant risks.  Specific foods and supplements have been shown to decrease inflammation in the body and promote healing; for more information see Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammitory Diet page.  In our office we use a natural anti-inflammatory enzyme supplement called Wobenzyme N.

We hope that the above information will help you make it through this winter season injury-free.  If you do need our help please contact us and we will help you get back on your feet.

Ever since we discovered the slow-mo feature on the new iPhone we have been having a lot of fun with it as you can see from the video below.