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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.

Ways to Get Help With Snow Removal for Your Elderly Parents

Ways to Get Help With Snow Removal for Your Elderly Parents

5 Ways to Get Help With Snow Removal for Your Elderly Parents

The winter months are tricky to navigate for anyone, but the group of people who faces the most difficulty is unquestionably the elderly. To start, seniors are very susceptible to slipping and falling--one third of people aged 65 and older falls each year, and approximately 31% of those are due to their environment, making it critical that their pathways stay clear of snow and ice. However, seniors can do little on their own to remove the snow gathering outside of their homes. Not only does shoveling cause a severe strain on the back and heart, but the response of seniors’ bodies to cold can be diminished by underlying medical conditions or certain medications, putting them at increased risk for hypothermia; approximately 600 elderly people die in the US each year from hypothermia, so seniors should take great care when exposing themselves to the cold.

The children or family of elderly men and women are usually more than happy to step in and take charge of snow care. But what if you live far away from your ageing parents? How can you ensure that their snow is cleared while they stay safe and warm inside? Fortunately, there are several options.

1. Research volunteer programs from youth groups or places of worship.

Contact your parents’ clergy or research local volunteer groups to find out what assistance is offered to senior citizens and disabled residents who are unable to remove snow. Local charities and church groups offer regular volunteering services aimed at helping older people, and those actions are amplified in the winter. For example, last year in Boston, Project Giving Kids partnered with local non-profit Ethos to encourage local youth and families to clear driveways and walkways for seniors around the city. Programs like these are easy to find in nearly any snow-affected city by searching online.

2. See what’s offered by local government.

Local government offices frequently have special programs targeted towards senior aid. For example, townships throughout Canada offer financial assistance to seniors, providing subsidies to help them pay for snow removal services, or even the opportunity for free snow removal. Further, local Community Councils often have offices dedicated to helping low-income seniors or seniors without family support, which can be called upon to aid with snow removal, as well as to provide other needed support during the winter. Lastly, simply searching a city’s or city government’s website will usually turn up a list of ways to connect with volunteers with elderly residents, such as the City of Chicago Snow Corps and the NYC.gov Service department.

3. Hire a snow removal contractor.

One way to have peace of mind is to outsource snow removal to a trained professional. You can compare the prices and estimates of local snow removal contractors online, and arrange a plan with them before winter starts that will ensure your parents’ paths are cleared after each snowfall. But if you take this route, be careful. It is unfortunately common to see scams and cons taking advantage of the elderly during the winter: someone offers to remove snow from an elderly person’s property, then does the minimal amount of work, and then tries to coerce the resident into paying a lot. Contractors pose a different problem--often they will charge several payments up front to prepare for the winter, and if they know that a more able-bodied individual isn’t around to see their work, they might do a poor job or worse, not show up at all. Before you hire anyone, check the Better Business Bureau or visit its website for reviews of qualified professional snow removal services.

4. Know their neighbors.

If your parents are uncomfortable with receiving aid from volunteers or charities, or if they don’t want a stranger coming to their home, turn to their neighbors for assistance. Offer to pay their neighbor’s teenage son a small fee for a winter’s worth of snow removal. Even if you do choose a different snow removal provider, you should still connect with neighbors--especially if your parents are not so communicative--so that you are up to date on when a storm or bad weather hits, and can make the necessary phone calls or take other relevant measures towards snow removal.

5. Purchase snow-melting mats.

If you don’t want to take the risk that any of the above services might not be efficient or trustworthy, invest in heated snow-melting mats. They are slip proof and can be left out all winter--your parents can turn them on or off from inside when it starts to snow using a remote controller. Further, you won’t have to worry about the risk of ice accumulating from the residual snow that shoveling inevitably leaves behind, as these mats resist ice as well. You or a local volunteer can set these up for your parents before the winter, and rest assured that your parents can walk freely from their home, without slipping, falling, and causing severe damage.

It is a difficult thing to live far from ailing or ageing parents who need your help, especially during the trying cold season. However, there’s no reason you can’t still be there for them and help them with this most crucial winter activity of snow removal. The above options can all be set in motion no matter where you live, and ensure that your parents face one less risk once the snow starts to fall.