Safe Snow Shoveling Tips from ECHN Rehabilitation Services

Jan 7, 2011 - 
Winter is here and so is the snow, which means shoveling and back pain! The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is pointing to a new study on low back pain that has demonstrated a decreased usage of medical services in patients who receive physical therapy early after an acute low back pain episode. The study, published in the journal Spine, showed Medicare patients who received physical therapy in the acute phase following an episode of low back pain were less likely to receive epidural steroid injections, lumbar surgery, or frequent physician office visits in the year following their initial physician visit as compared with patients who received physical therapist treatment later.

The study’s advocates encourage the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to swiftly undertake the direct access for physical therapy demonstration project recommended by the health care reform law. The results of this project could significantly change the way physical therapy services are delivered to our nation’s seniors—putting them on a path to recovery sooner and decreasing future costs.

To try to avoid low back pain this winter, here are a few tips to help keep you safe:

Warm Up: Athletes do it to help prepare and to help avoid injury, and so should you. A few stretches for the arms, legs, and back, as well as a few steps in place to raise your heart rate will help prepare the body by loosing up your muscles, increasing your body temperature, and getting your heart ready for the exercise to come.

Proper Dress: Dress in layers so you have the option to remove clothing as you work. One heavy layer could cause overheating, stressing the heart. Don’t forget your hat and gloves, as these items will help maintain your body temperature – especially if the winter wind is whipping.

Good Form: Remember to breathe, bend your knees, tighten your abdominal muscles, and use your arms and legs to help when lifting the snow to protect your back. Better yet – push the snow, rather than lift it. A plastic snow shovel may also be lighter than a metal shovel, again decreasing the weight lifted or pushed. Also, avoid twisting with your feet planted, as this motion is very stressful on your back.

Proper Pacing: Take frequent breaks, and your body will thank you for it. If you know that you are in for a large snowfall, get out early and shovel while the snow is manageable. You may have to go back out for round 2; however, shoveling a lighter load is much safer.
Things to Avoid: Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning. These are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict. Also avoid large meals before or after shoveling, as this places extra stress on the heart. Also, drink plenty of water. You may be working up a sweat shoveling, and dehydration is just as big an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer.
Listen to Your Body: Stop shoveling if you feel chest pain as well as shoulder, neck or arm pain; dizziness, fainting, sweating or nausea; or shortness of breath. If you think you're having a heart attack, seek medical help immediately.

During the winter months, if you become injured and need physical therapy, Eastern Connecticut Health Network (ECHN) Rehabilitation Services is here to help. ECHN’s Rehabilitation Services offers a comprehensive range of accessible services and convenient hours, ranging from early morning to early evening (Monday-Friday). ECHN also participates in a number of insurance plans, including but not limited to, Medicare, Medicaid (all plans), Cigna, BC, Connecticare, Healthnet and Aetna. If you would like more information on how to regain or improve your movement through Physical Therapy, please contact any one of the locations listed below for any questions regarding services at ECHN or to schedule an appointment:

Our Convenient Locations
Manchester Memorial Hospital
Rockville General Hospital
The Rehab Center at Courthouse Plus
Glastonbury Wellness Center
Ellington YMCA
Rehabilitation Services at Evergreen Walk
Woodlake at Tolland
CorpCare Occupational Health


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