Snow business and back talk

By Laura Longley

Do you remember Snowmageddon? The 2010 storm when Mother Nature dumped 32.4 inches of the white stuff on Dulles Airport—the heaviest single-storm snowfall ever recorded in the region? Ten years later that record still stands. Back then, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s current generation of satellites were still in development. Now, when monster snowstorms like Snowmageddon threaten the U.S., scientists and forecasters can track and predict them.

Fortunately, weather forecasters aren’t predicting a repeat of Snowmageddon this winter, just some wet snow early in the season. Still, you’re going to be faced with the unpleasant task of shoveling your sidewalk and driveway. And that means you’re also facing the risk of throwing out your back. 

Are you ready? If you’ve been cooped up with remote work and teaching your children remotely, chances are you’re not as limber as you were this time last year. To help you avoid low back pain—the leading cause of disability worldwide—we offer a critical caution, and four useful tips from Science-Based Chiropractic’s Dr. Damon Hendrickson of Ogden, Utah.

How not to shovel snow:

Head to the garage and get the biggest shovel you can find. Bend over and make sure you keep your knees locked as you scoop up a heaping pile of snow. “As abruptly and forcefully as you can,” Dr. Hendrickson writes, “twist and throw the snow over your shoulder. Repeat this 50-100 times and you’re done! Now that we have the perfect recipe for throwing out your low back and racking up a big pile of medical bills, let’s take a step backward and learn how to clear the snow out of your driveway without clearing your wallet of all your hard-earned cash.”

How to shovel snow the safe way:

Start with the right shovel: Consider investing in a plastic ergonomic shovel with a small to medium bucket and contoured design. It will help you keep upright and avoid lifting with your back. You can find these shovels online or at any home supply store, starting at $20 and up.

Use the proper technique: “Lift as little snow as possible,” Dr. Hendrickson recommends. “Pushing rather than scooping snow will significantly reduce the level of stress on your body. Use your legs. Bend slightly at your hips and squat down with your legs keeping your low back straight. This will take pressure off of your low back and allow you to lift without straining a muscle or injuring a joint.” 

Make a smart plan and an early start: Figure out where you’re going to put the snow. It’s no fun to shovel it a second time just because you blocked your neighbor’s car the first time. And as tempting as it may be to build a cozy fire and watch the flakes flutter down, best to bundle up and get started. As Dr. Hendrickson points out, “Shoveling the snow early, before it has had a chance to melt, re-freeze, and glue itself to your walkway, will make your job much easier. Pushing two inches of dusty snow off your driveway three times is much easier than shoveling six inches of packed ice. This will also help to avoid driving your car over the snow and packing the ice down further.” If you can’t get a head start on the snow as it is falling, limit yourself to 15 minutes of shoveling at a time.” 

Corral the neighbor’s kid: Why not avoid a costly injury altogether? Give the neighbor’s kid $10 to shovel your driveway. As the good doctor advises, “It’s a much better alternative than taking on the task yourself and ending up with an expensive injury. In all seriousness, this is a fantastic option. Most of us would do almost anything to get rid of pain once it’s started, so why not just avoid it in the first place?” 

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