When Winter Weather is a pain...literally.
By: Root Chiropractor- Daniel Agosta, DC MS
During the winter season, snow can be hit or miss in this city. In recent years, Portland typically receives at least a few inches each winter, sometimes more. For a city ill equipped to deal with snow, this often presents navigational challenges.
In the event that snow does accumulate, we can find ourselves shoveling walkways and navigating slick surfaces for a day or two, especially in higher elevations. Believe it or not, shoveling snow is a vigorous activity for most. Even just walking down a set of icy stairs can be daunting and dangerous.
Wondering how to prevent backaches and injuries when snow & ice hamper what’s usually an easy walk, bike or drive in Portland? Here are a few tips to help:
1. Allow time: The majority of back injuries occur within the first couple hours of the day. When we wake up and into the first couple hours of the day, the discs in our spine are the most filled and hydrated they will be at any given time of the day. While they are well hydrated, discs experience more intradiscal pressure. This increase in pressure can make people more vulnerable to injury when exposed to loading and sheering forces in certain movements and positions, most often in flexion, or when bending over. To reduce the risk of back injury, give your self at least an hour, preferably two, before performing vigorous exercise, such as shoveling snow or scraping ice. This gives gravity time to reduce the pressure on our discs.
2. Warm up: Stretching is great after you’re done exercising and your tissues are nice and warm, however, recent studies have focused on the importance of warming up and preparing the before exercise as well. To be clear, stretching after exercise is a good thing, just make sure to spend time warming up and stretching before you get moving as well. Some of my favorite warm-up exercises are the quadruped track, or “bird dog”, the dead bug/barrel roll, and dead lifts emphasizing a hip hinge, or bending forward from the hips instead of by curving the back. These exercised get the whole body involved and active while also reinforcing proper body mechanics while exercising, or any vigorous activity, including shoveling that walk way.
3. Proper mechanics: This may be the most important tip of all - moving the right way. As I mentioned above, hinging, or bending from the hips instead of the back, is essential to reducing the likelihood of low back injury. When we hinge a the hips, we engage our gluteal muscles to support the motion. By keeping the low back in a relatively neutral position, the stronger supporting muscles in your hips and glutes do most of the work, reducing the pressure and force on the low back. You always hear “bend at the knees” right? Add “hinge from the hips” to your mental reminders from now on each time you go to bend over, especially when going to lift any weight bearing load.
4. Listen to your body: Even when your warm, stretched and using proper mechanics, certain activities such as shoveling, inevitably cause you flex your low back more than is ideal. If performing an activity that begins to cause some your ow back to ache, take a short break and try to move your back in the opposite direction, for example, by doing 5-10 back bends, as far as you can go without pain, to relieve the ache. If this doesn’t help or your back pain is getting worse, take a longer break and walk around for a while to increase blood flow and reduce pressure. The key is to listen to your body. If you begin to feel pain with any activity, back off and reassess how you are doing. Often, injuries happen when we’re so focused on completing the task we fail to be present enough to realize we may be doing harm.
These tips are intended for people in relatively healthy condition. If you experience moderate or severe pain, please consult your physician or seek expert care from a provider. While an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure, injuries still happen. Add a little snow and ice into the equation and the stage is set for high injury potential. If you’re experiencing back pain, whether winter weather related or not, our skilled & compassionate Chiropractic Doctors are here to help.