Preventing Common Back Injuries During Snowy Winter Months

Physical Therapy Experts Offer Suggestions about Preventable Injury

Howell, New Jersey, January 2014 – This year’s Polar Vortex has brought bone-chilling temperatures across the country — compromising people’s health by putting them at-risk for fall injuries, hypothermia, frost-bite, bronchial issues and stiff joints. A common winter hazard is low back injury from shoveling snow.

Chris Beltran (DPT) is the Director of Atlantic Physical Therapy Center (APTC) in Howell Plaza Shopping Center on Route 9 and Aldrich Road and has seen a significant increase of avoidable snow-related injuries.

“I’ve been noticing that the same person who may be cautious about slipping on ice while walking becomes more aggressive and fearless when it comes to shoveling snow.   Snow can be deceptively heavy at times, and the repetitive bending, lifting, and twisting that come with shoveling can wreak havoc on one’s back,” says Dr. Beltran. “I remind all my patients to use proper bending and lifting techniques, to take breaks when they feel they are getting fatigued, and to avoid all twisting motions of their back.”

Dr. Beltran offers these tips in shoveling safely to avoid low back injury during this snowy winter season:

Shovel Selection Makes a Difference

  • Invest in an ergonomic snow shovel. It minimizes the snow removal effort on your body and back.
  • Shovels with an adjustable handle length or curved handle will minimize strenuous bending.
  • A shovel blade that is smaller and made from lightweight plastic lessens the amount of weight that you have to push or lift.

A Snowy Workout Requires a Warm Up

  • Just like with any other strenuous activity, your body needs a warm up of 5 – 10 minutes. When muscles are cold and tight, they become more prone to injury. Warmed up, flexible muscles will reduce risk of injury and strain on your back.
  • Keep your body circulation pumping with a short brisk walk, jumping jacks or any other aerobic activity
  • Engage in gentle stretching movements for your lower back and hamstrings.
  • Give yourself a body hug for 15 seconds to flex and stretch your arms, back and shoulders. Then extend your back and reach your arms overhead in a “V” to open your chest and create an arch in your back.  Do these movements 3 times each.

Ergonomically Speaking

  • Ergonomic lifting techniques will minimize the chances of injuring your lower back
  • When preparing to lift a loaded shovel, have shoulders and hips facing what’s being lifted
  • Engage your hips, not the low back, to bend. Lift with your leg muscles, keeping your back straight.
  • Keep your shovel load light; do not try lifting something that is too heavy
  • Do not extend your arms to toss the snow from the shovel. Walk over to the location to deposit the snow
  • Use your center of gravity effectively by keeping the heaviest part of the shovel closest to your body.
  • Avoid twisting your back when moving the snow; pivot your full body to face the area being shoveled.
  • Always keep your abdominal muscles engaged

Take It Slow

  • Pace yourself when shoveling. Removing smaller amounts at frequent intervals is less strenuous that doing a large pile at once
  • When the snow is deep, lessen the strain on your back by removing a few inches off the top. Attempting snow shoveling at its full depth is hazardous to your body.
  • Short breaks at 15 minute intervals or when you feel fatigued are necessary.
  • Keep stretching your back, shoulders and arms to keep them flexible and warm.

Staying Upright

  • It can get slippery under-foot when shoveling; that can lead to slips and falls that can injure your back so wear shoes or boots with good treads
  • Kitty litter, rock salt and sand will increase traction while reducing the likelihood of slipping. Sprinkle it liberally on your sidewalk and driveway.

For press inquiries, contact Roberta Bouer, (212) 996-0443

For appointments at Atlantic Physical Therapy, call (732) 835-2055