With the winter months upon us, and Jack Frost here to stay, it is inevitable that snow removal is in our future. Everyday common tasks, recreational activities, and basic chores can pose a risk for even the most fit individual if he, or she, has not warmed up properly. Simply going out to shovel after being inactive in bed, on the couch, or using the computer, makes the body susceptible to muscle spasms, strains, sprains, and disc irritation (especially in the lower back).
Just before it snows (or rains) you, or someone you know, may have experienced aches and pains in old injuries of the back, knees, shoulders, hands, etc. This sensation of pain is partially due to the fact that as the weather changes so too does the barometric pressure. Just like water, pressure often travels from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. As the pressure around us drops, the pressure in the fluid surrounding our joints attempts to push outward, creating the sensation of pain. This unique pain can be further aggravated (intensified) by simply going out into the cold weather without proper clothing. As a person becomes cold, the blood vessels in their arms and legs constrict to conserve heat for the vital organs (e.g. heart). This decrease in blood results in a decrease in oxygen to the muscles. Without proper amounts of oxygen the muscles become tight and spastic, increasing the likelihood of injury (think “pulled muscle”).
Along with dressing properly, it is essential that anyone working outside perform a thorough warm-up, including light aerobic activities and functional stretches. Light aerobic exercises can include walking, jogging, performing jumping-jacks, stationary biking, and using an elliptical. A functional exercise, also known as a dynamic exercise, is any movement that utilizes multiple muscles, and takes the muscles/underlying joints through their proper ranges of motion. Examples of dynamic exercises include air squats (without weights), lunges, and bringing your elbow towards the opposite knee while marching. Along with properly warming-up, there are various tips to keep in mind to help reduce the chance of injury with shoveling snow. These tips include:
- Be prepared – knowing it is going to snow will afford you ample time to wake-up, and shovel snow prior to work/school
- Wear multiple layers of clothing to keep your muscles warm and flexible
- When shoveling, it is very important to simply push the snow forward, rather than attempt to throw it.
- Avoid sudden twisting and turning movements
- As is the case when lifting anything, it is always best to lift with your legs rather than your back. Due to the length of the shovel, and the effects of physics, the perceived weight of the snow is much heavier than the actual weight of the snow being lifted
- Take frequent rest breaks to decrease the strain on your joints and muscles
- Always perform a series of active cool-down stretches following shoveling, or any other winter recreational activity