Snow Shoveling, Your Back, and Winter Storm Stella, 2017

This blog post is an ode to Winter Storm Stella, 2017. Stella spent the last two days wallopping most of New England with high winds and record-breaking snowfall. Here are some top snowfall reports from as of late Wednesday morning:

  • Connecticut: Middletown (21 inches), Windsor Locks-Bradley Int’l Airport (15.8 inches), Bridgeport (7.1 inches)
  • Delaware: Pike Creek (4.4 inches), Newark (3.6 inches), Wilmington (1.8 inches)
  • Maine: Lisbon Falls (22 inches), Portland (16.3 inches), Bangor (14.2 inches), Caribou (11.7 inches)
  • Maryland: Sabillasville (11 inches), Frederick (10 inches), Baltimore (2.5 inches)
  • Massachusetts: Granville (21.5 inches), Lowell (15 inches), Worcester (14.4 inches), Boston (6.6 inches)
  • New Hampshire: Stratham (23.6 inches), Concord (15.6 inches), Manchester (11.7 inches)
  • New Jersey: Vernon (20.3 inches), Newark (7.3 inches)
  • New York: West Winfield (42 inches), Near Utica (36 inches), Binghamton (31.9 inches), Buffalo (25.4 inches), Rochester (22.2 inches), Syracuse (21.6 inches), Albany (17 inches), NYC-Central Park (7.6 inches)
  • Pennsylvania: Oakland (34.5 inches), Honesdale (31 inches), Scranton (22.1 inches), Harrisburg (17 inches) Philadelphia Int’l Airport (6 inches)
  • Rhode Island: Burrillville (13 inches), Providence (3.3 inches)
  • Vermont: Woodford and Jay (34 inches), South Burlington/NWS office (29.7 inches)

That is a lot of snow to shovel! Snow shoveling injuries are the leading cause of back and neck pain in the winter months. So many injury-inspiring elements conspire when we shovel snow, this is not all that surprising. We don’t often warm up or stretch before shoveling, cold temperatures can reduce blood supply to key muscles, cold muscles are more easily pulled, we often work in haste (trying to get to work in the morning), we use bad technique and bad equipment. We essentially try to do more than our bodies, particularly the back and shoulders, are prepared to do.

Because you might not have time to develop Charles Atlas, washboard abs before you have to get your car out of the snowbank in the driveway, here are some tips for preventing back injury while shoveling snow:

Warm UP
– Get your blood moving with jumping jacks, marching in place, or a quick yoga routine.
– Stretch your low back and hamstrings.
– Limber up your arms and shoulders with shoulder shrugs and body hugs.
– Drink water (or Blossom Water) to prevent dehydration.

Pace Yourself
– Shovel a little bit at a time.
– Solicit a friend to help.
– Take a break every 10-15 minutes.

Lift Well
– Engage your core muscles! Your core muscles stabilize your whole body; lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles. Make sure yours are ready for the task by tightening them up as if preparing for a punch.
– Face your work: point your hips and shoulders forward toward the snow, bend your knees, lift with your leg muscles, keep your back straight.
– If you must lift the shovel, grip it with one hand close to the weight of the shovel.
– Avoid twisting your low back to toss the snow away, instead pivot your whole body.

Stay Grounded
– Wear boots with good traction.
– Spread sand, salt, or kitty litter to reduce slipping.

Choose the Right Snow Shovel
– If you are a small person, choose a small shovel with a small scoop, consider one with a lightweight handle.
– If you are strong, choose a bigger scoop, but take care to lift only what feels easy.

Don’t let Winter Storm Stella get the best of you. Take these precautions and shovel wisely.

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