Low Back Pain

Low Back Pain – Injuries of the Seasons

Every season brings different activities that require us to do some of the physical activity that we may not want to do but have no choice. Shovelling snow comes to mind in the winter (at least in some parts of the country) while spring, summer, and autumn may include sweeping, mowing, and raking in the garden. All these seasonal events are the”… I’ve got to..” daily living activities (ADLs), rather than the ADLs we want to do. Let’s just think of snow shovelling. Of course, if snow isn’t a matter where you live, this knowledge can also be applied to gardening, digging a hole, or some other shovelling activity related to the garden.

Next, a few details that help us understand why back pain when we shovel is so common: 1. About 2/3rds of our body weight is supported as we lean over, in addition to what we are lifting. Thus a person of 180 pounds (~80 kg) must lift 120 lbs(~54 kg) of body weight whenever he or she bends. 2. A weight of 5 lbs (~2,25 kg) will put 50 lbs (22,5 kg) of load on your back when it is held at the end of a shovel in front of you! 3) Our legs are much smaller than our arms and back. If a person can press 300 lbs (~136 kg) on the bench, they can normally press 500 lbs (~236 kg) of the legs-almost 2x more. Yet most of us, when shovelling, use our arms and not our legs. 4) Most of us use poor technique to lean over, raise the shovel with the arms and back (not the legs), and easily stretch and twist the back as we throw the material from the shovel! 5) Then, this faulty action is repeated many, many times, and on top of that, it’s not something we’re used to doing and, therefore, we’re not physically adapted or “in shape” for shovelling. It’s no wonder with all these “truths,” why we can still barely move after an hour of shovelling!

I suppose it makes more sense to hire a gardener (or convince your own child) to do the shovelling, but let’s presume you have to do it yourself … We can’t change the fact that most of our body’s weight is above our waist so we’re stuck with it and we won’t lose excess weight in time before shovelling. Nevertheless, we can certainly put less material on the shovel so there’s less pressure on our back. It’s necessary to use your strong leg muscles to squat down while keeping your back as straight / vertical as possible – Do NOT bend over. Try to stick your bottom out (to maintain an inward curve in your back), raise the shovel / material load straight up with your hands, holding the arched back / bottom out pose. Keep your arms / elbows straight and walk the load of the shovel to the dumping location – do not try to throw the load away by twisting your body.

When you injure your back-using a cut comparison on your face-avoid picking on the wound to repair it. Using ice / rest accompanied by gentle stretching and adjusted exercises if your back hurts after shovelling – don’t go back out and shovel (i.e. don’t pick at your cut!). Some wise shovelling considerations include warming up before you start, keeping “in shape” by year-round workouts, maintaining a good balanced diet and getting enough sleep.