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Shoveling Snow is one of the Worst Things you can do to Your Back

Monmouth County was recently battered with the massive snow storm which blanketed the area with almost two feet of snow.  Our office has been filled with individuals complaining of back pain caused from shoveling.  Most realized when shoveling snow that what they were doing could cause them harm.  However, I believe most do not realize just how much harm shoveling snow can cause to your back.

Back Pain Caused from Shoveling Snow

Consider for a moment what you are doing to yourself when you shovel snow.  You twist your body.  You bend. You extend forward.  You lift. You throw the snow back behind you or worse, you throw it forward.  These are all actions that create a significant amount of stress and potential injury to your back. The upside to shoveling snow is that you have a clear path.  The downside is that you risk permanent back injury including a significant increased risk of injuring your lumbar discs (cushions between the vertebrae and nerves).   This injury is called a disc herniation.   Actually, shoveling snow causes injury to your back whether you feel it or not.  If you are a little sore following shoveling, in most cases this indicates back injury.  If you have back pain following shoveling snow, this clearing indicates back injury.

It’s Not only Your Back that You have to Worry About

Shoveling snow also increases your risk of having a heart attack (1). Researchers have found an increase risk in the number of fatal heart attacks by those individuals that have shoveled snow during heavy snowfalls.

This rise may be due to the sudden demand that shoveling places on an individual’s heart. Snow shoveling may cause a quick increase in heart rate and blood pressure. One study found that after a short time shoveling, one’s heart rate increased to rates higher than those achieved during aerobic exercise.  (2)  This is equivalent to waking up in the morning, rolling out of bed and then sprinting as fast as you can out your front door and down the street five blocks.  This is not healthy for the heart.  The additional stress caused to the heart increases the risk of heart failure.

Tips to Avoid Injury

•    Cold muscles are easily injured so warm up before you start heavy lifting and shoveling.
•    Choose an ergonomic shovel.
•    Use sand and or salt to avoid slips, trips and falls.
•    Remember to lift with your legs not your back, bend at the knees and maintain good posture while shoveling.
•    If possible push the snow rather than trying to lift it.
•    When lifting a load of snow avoid bending, twisting, and throwing over the shoulder.
•    Take your time and do not try to lift too much.

If you have back pain or have been injured in any way, do not hesitate to call the office and schedule an appointment.  Lying in bed or on the couch and taking pain killers is not a recommended treatment.  Because Monmouth Spine and Rehabilitation is a multidisciplinary facility, there are many ways to go about treating these types of injuries such as laser therapy, electrotherapy, massage therapy, chiropractic adjustments, ultrasound, acupuncture, and more. If you have any questions or would like any additional information please feel free to contact us at 732.345.1377. Have a healthy holiday season and a great 2010.

(1)    Franklin, B.A., Hogan, P., Bonzheim, K., Bokalyar, D., Terien, E., Gordon, S., Timmis, G. “Cardiac Demands on Heavy Snow Shoveling.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 244, 1799-1801: 1995.
(2)    Strand, B., Terbizan, D., Isrow, D. “The Effects of Shoveling Snow on Heart Rate Intensities of Young Adults.” North Dakota Journal of Human Services, 2(3), 20-24: 1999.