As blizzards hit the Northeast and the contiguous United States braces for a polar vortex event, you might have to dust off your snow shovels in the coming weeks.
By the second week in February, parts of the United States will be colder than the North Pole, thanks to a polar vortex event that will drop temperatures to zero in the Midwest, and below freezing in every state of the union (including Hawaii!).
In addition to digging out winter coats, boots and accessories, now is the time to prepare your body for the possibility of shoveling snow.
Each year, snow shoveling leads to more than 11,500 injuries to American adults that require emergency care, 55% of which can be attributed to soft-tissue injuries. These numbers also include approximately 100 deaths, most of which are due to heart attacks.
These figures are a tiny fraction of the number of Americans that suffer non-emergency injuries, which tend to require over-the-counter care and physical therapy in order to fix. The result is a loss of mobility, quality of life and income.
At CORA Physical Therapy, we believe that the best form of medical care is preventive, so we’ve assembled some tips for avoiding snow shoveling injuries before they happen.
Prepare Your Shoveling Muscles and Gear
Shoveling snow is a great, full-body workout, that engages the marge muscles in your back, arms, legs and core. With that being said, it comes with obvious risks, including slippery surfaces, weight transfer across muscle groups, and motion that is not mimicked through many other activities. Part of the reason why injuries are so prevalent is because it’s a necessary-but-uncommon activity.
If you must shovel snow by hand, make sure that you and your equipment are ready.
Buy the right shovel: The technology for snow shovels has advanced greatly in recent years, with more ergonomic designs that prevent bad posture, devices and sprays that warm the shovel blade, handles for greater leverage and precision, and customized designs and material. Before snow appears in the forecast, it might be worthwhile to inspect the shovels that you have and replace with a user-friendly model. Whenever possible, try to push the snow rather than lifting it.
Schedule Your Appointment: Physical therapy isn’t just for rehabilitating old injuries – it’s also for general fitness, education, injury prevention and correcting muscle imbalances that lead to injury under stress. Injury prevention is just as important as rehabbing an injury which is why we recommend a holistic approach to your health. Prevent injuries before they happen!
Wear the right clothing: Besides dressing for the temperatures, footing is the second-most important consideration in your shoveling wardrobe. The act of shoveling requires firm traction to prevent weight transfer injuries and falling over in the snow. Both types of incidents can lead to injuries that require physical therapy to mitigate.
Limber up: Whenever starting physical activity, it’s a good idea to stretch and warm up your muscles before exerting them. This can include warming up inside with squats, walking briskly up and down the stairs, and stretching your reach in every direction. Particularly when the weather is cold, this process can take longer. Also, rather than take a full shovel of snow with each pass, which can weigh more than 20 pounds, consider taking smaller loads.
And always remember to lift with your hips and legs, NOT your back. Proper technique can help you avoid pain and injury.
Know when to quit: With busy lives and places to be, it’s easy to treat shoveling snow as a task with a time limit. Whenever possible, break up the workload to prevent exhaustion and overexertion, which frequently lead to injury. Whenever it is safe to do so, it is recommended that you shovel more often, reducing the amount of snow that needs to be moved at any one time.
Don’t Wait to Get Care from CORA
Maybe, despite your best efforts, you still overdid it and strained muscles in your back, legs, arms or core. Don’t worry – it happens! Whether you know during the storm or days later when an injury first appears, CORA is here to help you on the road to recovery.
Presuming that your injury is non-emergency, the best place to start your treatment is by following the R.I.C.E. acronym: rest, ice, compress and elevate. Resting means maintaining the best possible posture, using muscle groups as sparingly but normally as possible, and not overdoing it. Icing can be tricky, depending on the location of an injury, but can help treat a range of symptoms from pain to inflammation and spasming. Compression is best for injuries at your body’s extremities, but can still be used to alleviate pain in your core. Lastly, elevation can be used to reduce swelling for injuries in your extremities.
Early treatment is important for a quick recovery, and CORA is always just a phone call away. Thanks to direct access care, you may not even need a doctor’s referral in order to get the care that you need, all covered by your insurance or Medicare. Once you’ve been admitted into our care, we offer robust in-person service at 200+ clinics, telehealth options that include live video and text messaging with your doctor, and at-home visits from a qualified therapist.
Fixing Injuries Before, During and After Blizzards Have Passed
Regardless of what the forecast holds for your neighborhood, it’s never too late to repair the damage done from shoveling snow. CORA offers a broad range of physical therapy services, including aquatic therapy, dry needling, Kinesio taping and orthopedic rehabilitation, to help you feel better.
Our goal is to provide the highest quality care to our patients. While we can’t shovel the snow for you, we’re there before, during and after any event in your life, to ensure your continued wellness.
Want to learn more about our services? Please contact our team at [email protected] with any questions.