Save Your Back When Shoveling Snow
Improve Your Snow Shoveling Mechanics to Avoid Injury
‘Tis the season for hot cocoa, warm fires, and lots of snow. With snow comes shoveling, and unfortunately with shoveling comes injury. It is estimated that there are over 11,000 hospital visits each year due to injuries while shoveling snow. This number does not even include the thousands of people that see their primary care doctor with the onset of an injury. Many of these medical visits involve the low back including complaints of pain with movement, leg numbness, and the inability to maintain the proper posture. Lumbar injuries while shoveling are often due to the combination of repeated flexion and rotation of the spine. Adding the load of snow and having poor spine stabilization during the lift results in overload on the structures of the lumbar spine and resultant injury. Here are three exercises you can use to improve your shoveling mechanics in order to spend more time sipping cocoa by the fire, and less time in a physician’s waiting room.
- Hip Hinge – a proper movement pattern to bend forward and push snow involves flexion at the hips and knees, while maintaining a more neutral spine.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Using a broom stick, golf club, or wooden dowel, place the stock along your lumbar spine.
- The stick should come in contact with the back of your head, mid-thoracic spine (between your shoulder blades), and at the sacrum/mid-buttock.
- With a slight bend in your knees, hinge your hips by driving your buttock backwards, while maintaining the three points of contact throughout the movement.
- Perform ten repetitions
Common mistakes: squatting versus hinging – try and minimize knee bend. Your buttock should move backwards, not down.
Losing contact with the stick – if you notice the stick is leaving the sacrum the spine is flexing. Slow down the movement and move only as far as you can with contact.
- Isometric Hip Bridge – once you have properly bent forward to push and load the snow, using the buttock and hamstring muscles to lift the snow will decrease strain of muscles of the lower back.
- Start lying on your back, knees bent, and hands raised straight in the air.
- Push through your heels driving your hips upwards, hold for 5-10 seconds, and return. Repeat this movement 10 times.
- If you find that you feel this more in the low back than the legs or buttocks, try squeezing a pillow at your knees during the lift.
- Rotational Step – now that you have properly bent to load the snow, and used the proper muscles to lift it, increasing rotation at the hips to move the snow versus rotating through the lumbar spine will reduce torsional strain on the vertebral discs and spinal stabilizers.
- Begin by standing in an athletic stance with your feet shoulder width apart and slight bend in your knees.
- Keeping one foot in place, open up through your hips by stepping to the side and backwards. Your weight should be evenly distributed between the feet.
- Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement, being mindful not to bend forward or rotate through the spine.
- Perform 10 repetitions to each side.
See video demonstration of these exercises: here
Sean Duffey, DPT
Clinic Director, Ivy Rehab, Ortonville
Ever wonder how many sets and repetitions of an exercise you should perform? Mike O’Hara, PT helps answer this question in his article “Old School Effective”. Jeff Tirrell discusses the importance of changing only one element of your fitness program at a time in order to determine its effective in “Be The Tortoise”. Exercise description and demonstration of single leg hip hinges are included in “One Leg At A Time”. Don’t forget to check out the youtube video that goes with the article.
Fitness training for those of us past 40 years of age is more complicated. Physical performance and recovery capacity are dramatically different. If you need proof, look for the forty year olds in the NBA or NFL. The good news is that with proper planning, consistent performance, and the wisdom that comes with age, we can stay fit and active for a lifetime. I have compiled a collection of tips for the forty plus fitness client.
Carry, Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Pull, Push– Every Week
Most strength coaches divide human movement into 5-6 fundamental movement patterns. These movements are what we are talking about when we call our training “functional.” Personally, I like to go with 6 patterns in the following order of importance: Carry, Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Pull, and Push. These functional patterns include virtually all aspects of human movement.
The first two, carry and squat, are performed daily in real life while the other movement patterns are used less frequently. Incorporating these movement patterns into your training program at least once per week will ensure that you develop a well-rounded physique, but more importantly, that your musculoskeletal system functions like the awesome machine it was made to be. Practicing these movement patterns should keep you free from asymmetry and injuries. You will also become stronger and well balanced giving you the confidence to take on whatever life throws at you. Just how frequently you train each pattern will depend on your current training status, movement quality, experience, and goals. Following is a loose guide:
Carry: 3-5x/wk (this can include traditional carries, crawls, Turkish Get Ups, or sleds)
Hinge: 1-2x/wk, (Deadlifts, KB swings, or Good Mornings all fall into this category)
-Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS, Pn1
This month’s issue has information on the lumbopelvic hip complex including written/video exercises. Mike O’Hara also gives information on unstable pressing exercises to improve posture and improve motor control and symmetry. Also read about the Becoming Unstoppable clinic for athletes 13 years and older that will be help April 30th at Fenton Fitness.
The hip hinge is the most powerful movement the human body can perform. It is the pattern that allows you to lift your body off the ground in a hop, skip, or a jump. Many people, through injury or inactivity, are unable to perform a proper hip hinge pattern. Your core stabilizers, gluteals, and hamstrings all work together to create a hip hinge so you must train them as a team. The Romanian Deadlift and Row is simple exercise you can use to retrain the hip hinge pattern.
I have no idea why it is called a Romanian Deadlift and Row but many exercises have these foreign names- Turkish Get Ups, Bulgarian Squats, Czechoslovakian Chin Ups… I do know that this drill is a great method of retraining the all important hip hinge pattern while limiting loading on the lumbar spine.
RDL AND ROW
Set up resistance tubing (or a cable unit) at chest level. Stand facing the tubing / cable unit with the feet shoulder width apart. Pull the hands in so the thumbs are at the armpits and the shoulder blades pulled back. Reach forward with the hands and push the hips back. The knees should bend a little and hips should bend a lot. Keep the lower back neutral and your weight over the heels. Pull back up to the starting position and hold the hamstrings, abdominals, and gluteals tight for three counts. Repeat for eight to ten repetitions.
-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS