February 10th, 2010
01:29 PM ET
By Val Willingham
It’s snowing where I live. No, I mean really snowing. I’ve resided off and on in the Washington, D.C. area for fifty years, and I have never seen this much snow in one week. Even the blizzard of '96 didn't dump this much white stuff so quickly.
Yet for many, this kind of weather is a winter wonderland; a time for getting out and building snow people, skating, skiing, even tubing. But in order to get out, you have to dig out. And that’s the challenge.
For years I have suffered from back pain. Ruptured discs can do that to you. So when it comes to shoveling snow, that chore falls on my husband’s shoulders (and his back and legs too).
But there has been so much snow the last few days - I couldn’t just let him do it on his own. I had to help. He didn’t want me to. But I insisted. Not a good idea.
I now have back pain again. And doctors will tell you, even if you don’t have a history of back pain, you can injure your glutes and other muscles very quickly by lifting and shoveling snow incorrectly.
According to the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, on the average, more than 120,000 people are treated for injuries suffered from snow and ice removal every year. Most problems are muscular– back pain, shoulder pulls. But many people slip and fall and injure themselves on the ice.
So the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is trying to get the word out that people need to take proper health and safety precautions when shoveling snow.
First off, the AAOS says, be prepared. Doctors warn if you are out of shape, go easy on scooping up snow. It’s heavy and can strain your whole body as well as your heart. If you’ve been a couch potato all winter, you might want to pay a local teen to shovel you out. And once the snow clears, get moving, so next time Ol' Man Winter strikes, you’ll be ready.
Wear the right clothing. Keep warm - put on heavy socks, a hat and gloves. When you get cold, take a break. And wear boots that are slip resistant because ice goes hand in hand with snow. You never know where it may be hiding.
And prepare your body: Before going out to sling flakes, warm up with light exercise. About ten minutes will do it. Stretch the muscles to help them stay limber. Once you get outside, don’t overload the shovel. Dig with your knees, not your back (which was my problem). Picking snow up with your knees avoids strain on the back muscles. If the snow is too heavy, push it rather than lift it. And don’t throw snow over your shoulder. That can twist your back out.
But most importantly, try not to overdo it. Moderation is the key. Shovel a little at a time. It may take you longer to dig out, but once you do your back will thank you for not rushing it.
Do you have a tip on how to stay healthy during the winter months? We’d like to hear about it.
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