Back At Shovelling

It snowed for the first time this season in Toronto this past weekend so it has most of us searching for those snow shovels we packed away last spring. When you do find them and it starts to snow enough that we have to use them there are several things that we have to remember when we are out there.

Shovelling is just like any other manual labour task or exercise regime. Stretching is key to keeping our muscles moving properly and come away ache and pain free. Stretching your low back, shoulders, hip, and knees both before and after shovelling will go a long way to keep you pain-free this winter.

Stretching
For your low back, place your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly bend down to touch your toes (or as close are you can get them). Hold this position for three big, slow stomach breaths. Walk your hands over to the left leg and foot and hold this position for three breaths. Walk your hands over to the right leg and foot and hold for three breaths then walk your hands back to the centre and rise back up slowly to a standing position.

Stand up straight and roll your shoulders in circles backwards ten times then forward ten times. Next, bring your right arm across your body at the same level as your shoulder and use your left arm to hold it there for three big stomach breaths. Repeat this with the left. Reach behind your head with your right hand and behind your back with your left and try to bring your hands together. Hold this position for three stomach breaths again then switch arms and repeat.

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and take a long step forward with your right foot. Keep your left knee straight and press your hips forward and down. You should feel a stretch along the front of your thigh and up into your abdomen. Hold this stretch for three big stomach breaths then stand back up and repeat it with your feet reversed.

Stand near a wall and steady yourself with your left hand on the wall. Lift your right foot behind you and grasp it with your right hand. Pull your foot up until you feel a stretch along the front of your thigh. Hold this for three stomach breaths then lower your foot to the ground and repeat with your left.

Shovelling
When you are out there shovelling remember a few things. It is better for your body to push the snow to the edges of the driveway than it is to lift and throw it. If you do have to throw it to get it off the driveway then be sure to lift properly. Keep your back straight and your core tight then bend at the hips and knees to grip the shovel and then extend the knees and hips. Once you are back up straight take steps to turn in the direction you want rather than twisting your low back, and then throw the snow where you want it to end up.

Be sure to take lots of breaks to keep your muscles from getting overly tired. One of the best ways I find to do this is to have some good music playing through some headphones that keeps your bopping along at a good pace but gives you a better idea of the passage of time. Stop every 5-10 songs and give yourself a break. Just stand and take deep breaths or grab a drink of water. The music will also help to keep you in a positive frame of mind which is very good for preventing and relieving pain.

The Ontario Chiropractic Association has an educational pamphlet on shovelling with some good information here.

Stay warm and dry out there this winter and protect your back.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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