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September 24, 2018

Be Careful Shoveling All That Snow


By Dr. Casey McCaffrey
I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays.

We were lulled into thinking that maybe the snow machine had forgotten about us.

Wishful thinking.

Here it is!

Most of us agree that they would miss the change of seasons and winter is an exciting time.

Winter, can be very beautiful, but we must prepare for it.

Just as we change out our clothes, we must take inventory of our snow removal equipment, replace some tools and remind ourselves of good body mechanics.

 As a doctor very interested in seeing you enjoy a happy and healthy season, I wish to remind you of some  preparations, practices and strategies that will preserve the health of your spine and the rest of your body.  (This article has been posted in the past, but so many people have commented that they have found it helpful that I feel it justifies repeating.)

Shoveling can be good exercise, however if you have any health concerns, you should consult your doctor and follow his advice.

Shoveling can be a very strenuous and taxing activity. 

The cold presents its share of problems for people with impaired health especially those with heart and respiratory problems. Do not take risks with your health.

Do not smoke, eat or drink caffeinated beverages before you shovel as these are stimulants which could constrict blood vessels. Don’t forget, as with any exercise, to do warm up and stretching exercises. Be sure to warm up the muscles of your neck, shoulders, arms, back and legs.

Dress in layers. You may take off layers if you get too hot, and multiple layers tend to trap the heat between the layers keeping you warmer.

The importance of good boots cannot be underestimated. These insulate your feet from the cold. They should have a good tread to allow strong traction on slippery surfaces. Slipping on the ice is the cause of very serious injuries.

Next you should have a proper shovel. Contrary to what we think, one shovel does not fit all. The American College of Orthopedic Surgeons addresses proper shoveling techniques and considerations. A shovel of about 3 pounds is best. Heavy shovels are not suitable.

Then there is the consideration of length. If a shovel is up to chest height when the blade touches the ground, it minimizes the amount of bending and allows better leverage thus reducing the strain on your back.

Now that you are equipped with the proper tools, head for the snow.  If there is ice at your location, throw down some sand or snow melt.

When you begin shoveling, do not overload your shovel to get done faster. The weight of the shovel and snow together should not exceed 10-15 pounds depending upon your stature and degree of physical fitness.

If you are shoveling heavier loads, you are increasing the probability of injury.

If you are aiming your load at an exact spot, as opposed to dumping it close by, the load should be even smaller, because that takes more control and effort.

Employ good body mechanics in lifting the snow.

The proper stance to protect your muscles and spine is to stand with your legs shoulder width apart and your front foot close to the shovel.

Your weight should be distributed on your front foot. Your leg should push the shovel not your back.

Now shift your weight to your back foot. Keep the load close to your body. Your feet should be turned in the direction you are throwing.

The above considerations apply to children as well with modifications.

The equipment must be selected in proportion to their smaller stature and developmental level.

Sometimes we need to curb a child’s enthusiasm and competitive nature for their safety. Children love to help, and it can be a great opportunity to teach them proper body mechanics.

As in any physical exercise, rest periodically and most importantly listen to your body.  If you are short of breath, your muscles are aching or you feel pain – STOP and seek care immediately.
 
Have a happy and safe winter by being proactive and planning.

Dr. McCaffrey practices at McCaffrey Chiropractic, 184 W. Fourth St., Oswego. (342-3877  www.mccaffreychiro.com)

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