According to Dr. Alex Levchenko, an interventional spine pain management specialist at Orthopedic and Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS), all too often, people who are inactive throughout the year underestimate the physical challenge involved in clearing snow. Even someone in good shape can strain their back from the rotation of lifting and throwing snow.
“You should take the time to strengthen your core and back muscles just as you should before starting any strenuous activity," said Levchenko. "You wouldn’t walk into a gym and try to lift 100 pounds if you haven’t lifted weights before. You would build up your strength. It’s the same thing with shoveling snow.”
Levchenko said the number of patients he sees with back pain increases after every large snowfall. “People tend to think of shoveling snow as a nuisance when it is really an intense form of exercise.”
When large snowfalls do occur, Levchenko recommends getting ahead of the accumulations by shoveling smaller amounts every few hours rather than waiting for it to pile up and freeze.
Before tackling the job, it’s important to warm up your muscles. Once outside, maintaining proper posture and body mechanics will minimize stress to the weaker back muscles. Levchenko recommends avoiding rounding the lower back. Instead, shovelers should keep a straight back and lean forward with a slight bend in their knees.
It's also important to use your core, hips and hamstrings to provide strength and stability rather than relying on your back and shoulder muscles to do the heavy lifting. Using ergonomically designed “push” shovels can also help ease lower back strain.
Levchenko advises people with pre-existing back conditions to avoid shoveling altogether. “It’s better to pay someone else to do it and save yourself from all the ways the increased back pain will impact your life,” he said.
ONS has offices in Greenwich and Stamford, Conn. and Harrison, N.Y.
To learn more about Dr. Alex Levchenko’s specialty or any of ONS' 25 fellowship-trained orthopedists and neurosurgeons, click here.
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