Written by Jenn Konin
Shoveling snow can be very strenuous and, while it is a great way to burn some calories, can cause unwanted back pain or other serious health issues if done incorrectly. It is a good idea to warm your muscles for five to ten minutes before heading out, stay hydrated and always listen to your body.
Equally important is how you shovel; you should always pick up your shovel and face towards the snow you are lifting, with both your shoulders and hips squared and your hands positioned with one on the handle and the other closer to the blade of the shovel. A slight bend in your knees and a tightening of your lower abdominals as you reach your shovel toward the snow can help you stay out of your lower back as well. Remember to pace yourself!
A tired and tight back accompanied by some pain is common after snow shoveling. If you feel some back tightness, the following stretches can help:
Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground no further than hip distance apart. Tighten your lower abdominals, squeeze your buttocks and raise your hips off the floor while maintaining an aligned pelvis. Hold for up to three seconds and then slowly lower your pelvis back to the floor. Repeat up to ten times.
Spine Stretch: Sit in a seated position with a straight back and legs out in front, slightly wider than hip distance apart. Place your hands on your thighs with palms facing up. Sitting tall, inhale and tighten your lower abdominals lifting up and over your legs allowing your fingers and head to gently reach toward your feet, just enough to feel a gentle spine stretch and exhale fully. Take your time coming back up to a tall seated position with an emphasis on stacking your vertebrae one at a time. Repeat up to ten times.
Foam Roller: Lie on your back with the foam roller in a horizontal position under your sacrum (the large triangular bone at the base of the spine, connecting to both to the last lumbar vertebra and the coccyx (tailbone), placing your hands on each side of the roller and hold firmly. Tighten your lower abdominals and lift both legs to a 90-degree position directly over your hips. This immediately helps to relieve pressure on the spine. Allowing your legs to move beyond the 90-degree position will enable you to stretch the backs of your legs as well, primarily the hamstrings. Hold this position for as long as you are comfortable and repeat as necessary.
These are just a few stretches that can help you get through the discomfort caused by shoveling snow. But snow shoveling isn’t the only cause of lower back issues. Faulty movement patterns caused from past or current injures, and simply sitting behind a desk or driving can also cause pressure on the spine due to poor postural habits. Good posture is extremely important for a healthy spine! Joseph H. Pilates said, “Never slouch as doing so compresses the lungs, overcrowds other vital organs, rounds the back, and throws you off balance.” Words to live by – winter, spring, summer and fall.