What's Going Around: Snow Shoveling

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We've watched the snow cover our sidewalks and driveways, but rehabilitation specialists at Sparrow Hospital say they've seen more patients for back problems due to snow shoveling.

Those with a history of back pain should see their physicians before shoveling any snow. Also, before shoveling snow, consider stretching your hamstrings and lower back, just as you would before a workout.

But doctors say the biggest mistake people make is that they overestimate their strength.

"It's always tempting to get the bigger shovel to get the most amount of snow the fastest. That's a bad idea for your back, especially if the snow is wet or heavy. Get a smaller shovel and take smaller scoopfuls," said Dr. Edmund Ducommun.

Doctors also suggest bending at the knees. That will avoid adding stress to your back.

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Snow Shoveling Tips

  • Dress warmly, but don’t bundle. You want to move naturally and not make movements difficult or awkward.

  • Warm up and stretch before you start shoveling. Walk around with large arm movements to get the blood flowing and your body temperature up before you start.

  • Use a lightweight push shovel if possible. Also, spray your shovel with Teflon so the snow does not cling.

  • Always keep one hand close to the base of the shovel to balance weight of the lift and lessen the lower back strain.

  • Try to push the snow when possible. Avoid lifting and throwing snow any distance. Push or walk the snow to a pile.

  • Avoid sudden twists with your body. Try to move the entire body together as a unit.

  • Use your legs and bend your knees to help with leverage.

  • Work slowly, pace yourself. Shovel for five to seven minutes then rest for two or three minutes. Don’t wait until your tired or short of breath. If you start to fatigue, stop.

  • If you experience pain, stop immediately. Rest yourself for five to ten minutes. For any new injury, use ice and not heat. Apply ice packs ten minutes on, ten minutes off and 10 minutes on again to help start reducing inflammation.

  • If you have a health problem or are not in good shape, do not even consider snow shoveling. Find someone ahead of time to help. Don’t wait until there is a lot of snow on the ground before you figure out how to remove it.

Source: http://www.nih.gov (National Institute of Health Web site) contributed to this report.