How to Avoid Snow Shoveling Injuries: Train Don’t Strain

By Dr. Len Mayer

Did you ever wonder why your grandfather or great-grandfather, who may have been a laborer, factory worker or construction worker, didn’t miss a day of work due to a “backache”; or, why your great-grandmother had six kids and didn’t complain of hip pain and incontinence during her thirties, forties and fifties? That’s because lifting bricks and taking care of household duties without time and effort-saving devices, are a form of exercise. Better yet, they are a very natural form of exercise that keeps the body in alignment.

Last week, the Richmond area had a pretty good snowfall—about 16. Someone suggested I write a blog about snow shoveling and back injuries and how I treat them—she’d been hearing people complaining of back pain all over Facebook for days.

But a funny thing happened when I thought about what I would say on the topic. I’m not actually treating anyone for back pain related to snow shoveling, because all the patients I have who have been in treatment for chronic pain in their back and/or sciatica or hip pain in our clinic said the snow shoveling didn’t cause any problems at all. In fact, these folks who have been doing functional exercises in my office as part of their treatment plan said snow shoveling made them feel better! Even the patient who reported shoveling “what seemed like fourteen tons of snow” said they were better than ever.

At first, one patient said he thought it was “counterintuitive” that he did all that shoveling and felt better for it, but then said that it was counterintuitive before we started working together. Now, he realizes that instead of being “strained” by the shoveling, he was “trained”. Exercise properly done with a “functional body” provides training, not injury. Exercise with a less-than-functioning body…strain! Makes sense, no? Isn’t that why athletes train? So they can perform better?

But, what if they trained incorrectly? Can you see why that could lead to “overuse” (actually “misuse”) and/or micro-injuries?

At Capitol Rehab of Richmond, our approach for everyone from office workers to elite athletes, and from infants to seniors is that we want to help you get relief of your discomfort, regain mobility and improve your performance. We look at it as if you were in the “Life Olympics.” This doesn’t mean working out in a gym all year to get in shape so you won’t throw your back out once or twice a winter when you’re shoveling snow. It means getting your body into proper alignment and well trained so that you can handle LOTS of things without getting hurt—playing with kids or grandkids, cleaning, doing part of a home renovation project, raking leaves, carrying heavy shopping backs, stretching up to get something off a high shelf, and yes, shoveling snow.