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Back Problems Associated with Shoveling Snow

Back Problems Associated with Shoveling Snow

Back Problems Associated with Shoveling Snow

Every year, thousands of people injure themselves while shoveling snow out of their driveways, and a large portion of those injuries are sustained on the back. The constant bending over, raising and lowering of the spine, and the effects of cold weather on your muscles all contribute to winter back injuries. Additionally, lack of proper snow shoveling technique, sudden activity after a routinely sedentary lifestyle, and use of less-than-optimal shovels all make back problems worse.

The most common types of winter back problems

While shoveling snow can lead to many kinds of back problems, these four are the most common:

1.   Lower back pain and strain

How it happens: Poor posture during shoveling, where the back is rounded when going down for the next load of snow, is a key cause of lower back pain. This posture minimizes the use of your stronger "spinal erector" muscles and puts the pressure on weaker "stabilizer" muscles, and over-stretches your spine's supporting ligaments.

How to prevent it: Instead of lifting snow, use the shovel to push it to the side whenever possible. But if you have to lift a shovel full of snow, squatting with and lifting from your knees will decrease the stress on your back. Keep the shovel near your body and move to the edge of the driveway instead of hurling the snow.

2.   Herniated discs

How it happens: A herniated, or "slipped," disc occurs whenever a soft, inter-vertebral disc moves out of position and presses or pinches up against a nerve. The major cause of herniating a disc while shoveling snow is rotating or twisting the back instead of making straight up and down motions. And the heavier the snow load, the greater the chances of an injury.

How to prevent it: Always face your hips and shoulders towards the object you intend to lift. Avoid twisting your back to move the snow to its new location: instead, pivot your whole body to face the new direction. For a minor investment, you can buy an ergonomically designed shovel that uses a bent handle to de-stress your back. This type of shovel also prevents your needing to bend as far. Look for an adjustable handle and lightweight material as well.

3.   Muscular back pain

How it happens: Although muscular back pain overlaps with lower back pain and can come in tandem with disc herniation, it can apply to many back muscles. Cold outdoor temperatures can slow blood circulation and make muscles more likely to cramp, over-tire, or experience spasms.

How to prevent it: Warm up with exercises and stretches before going outdoors to shovel snow. Also, warm up in a well-heated home and be sure to eat a hot breakfast. And again: too much bending and twisting will make the condition more severe.

4.   Fractures, bruising, and torn tendons/ligaments

How it happens: You can also injure your back by slipping and falling on concrete (or other hard surfaces) while shoveling snow. This can lead to a broken back, where vertebrae are actually fractured. It can also dislocate vertebrae and tear at tendons and ligaments. Additionally, bones can actually be "bruised" upon impact, causing much pain and a long-term "bad back." Injury of the coccyx, or "tail bone," is especially common during a fall since it is at the end of the vertebral column. Such an injury is serious, and you should not delay to get immediate medical attention should it occur.

How to prevent it: Make sure to wear shoes or boots with good treads to minimize injuries from slipping. Spreading a traction-enhancing substance like sand, rock salt, or kitty litter on your sidewalk or driveway will also reduce the likelihood of slipping on the ice while you shovel.

No-one really enjoys shoveling snow. But if you follow our safety tips above, at least you’ll be shoveling smart.

The Rock Salt Health Risks You Need to Worry About

The Rock Salt Health Risks You Need to Worry About

Rock salt is usually not on homeowners' minds until outdoor temperatures begin to drop and winter is "just around the corner." And when thoughts do turn to rock salt, it is usually in immediate connection with melting ice and snow rather than with health concerns. Here are the health risks you should be aware of.

What Are the Dangers of Using Rock Salt Around Pets?

What Are the Dangers of Using Rock Salt Around Pets?

What Are the Dangers of Using Rock Salt Around Pets?

Rock salt (sodium chloride), as well as many other deicers, pose major hazards to your pets when applied in significant quantities to your driveway and other outdoor pavements. Being aware of these dangers and how to eliminate, or at least minimize, the risks to your cat or dog from rock salt can save your pet's health or even his/her life.

Salt Burns to Dog/Cat Paws

When you spread rock salt over your driveway and your pet then walks on the salt, or on a salt-water slush resulting from its melting of the snow/ice, the salt crystals can attach to the animal's paw pads and cause irritation and burning. It can also lead to inflammation, redness, soreness, and bacterial infection. While rock salt can also attach to fur and cause burns on other parts of your pet's body, the main problem is with the paws.

Using a "pet-friendly" deicer, sand mixed with a minimal amount of salt, and simply shoveling, snow blowing, or hiring a snow plow service are ways to deice without rock salt. You could also lay down walkway, stair or driveway grade snow-melting mats to keep an ice-free zone without resorting to rock salt.

Additionally, protect your dog/cat during winter by rinsing off his paws when he returns from an excursion outside. If the breed has long hair, you should trim/groom the coat regularly during the winter. You may also consider investing in "booties" to protect pet paws from salts, and you can take your dog out to a non-salted area when it’s time instead of just letting him/her loose to go out alone.

Ingestion of Rock Salt by Pets

Once your pet walks on rock salt, he/she may well stop to lick his/her paws and thus ingest the salt. Or, your pet may simply stop to drink water mixed with rock salt or even eat or lick deposits of rock salt directly. Both for dogs and cats, ingestion or rock salt in significant amounts can be dangerous or even deadly.

Too much salt in your pet's system can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, seizures, erratic walking behavior, disorientation, extreme tiredness, an unnaturally intense thirst, or unusual drooling or salivating. Salt burns to the mouth and/or gastro-intestinal tract are also possible, along with sodium toxicosis (salt poisoning).

In extreme cases, your dog/cat could even die or fall into a coma as a result of ingesting rock salt, so take the warning signs seriously and call your vet if you suspect there is a problem. Your vet will likely deliver intravenous medication/fluids and monitor your pet to ensure the condition does not worsen.

Not only rock salt, but also calcium chloride and certain other deicers can be a danger to your pet if ingested, so either keep your pet indoors during winter or monitor him/her closely while out of doors. Otherwise, opt for the non-chemical deicing methods mentioned above. Also, keep in mind that salt tracked in on boots and shoes can accumulate on welcome mats and floors and be ingested by your pet. So sweep often and wash and clean welcome mats regularly.

Rock salt can effectively melt the snow and ice on your pavements, but in using it, you are exposing your dog or cat to additional dangers. If you cannot eliminate rock salt use entirely, you may be able to minimize it by using deicers labeled "pet safe" as much as possible and/or opting for non-chemical snow/ice removal methods.

Both your pet's paws and his/her whole digestive tract can be burned by salt crystals, and salt toxicity in the bloodstream can be fatal. Thus, those with pets who will be spending some time outdoors during the winter should take the time to seriously consider how to reduce the risks their pets will face.