The full title of this should be How To Shovel Snow (And Not Hurt Yourself). We just had our first fairly serious snowfall in Ottawa and inevitably this brings on clients starting to shovel large amounts of the white stuff.
This also inevitably brings on back problems, shoulder problems and even knee problems from doing this seemingly simple activity. If I told you to pick up a 20 pound weight, for most of you it isn’t a problem (especially if you work with me). However, if I told you to pick it up, then throw it about five feet beside you while twisting, then repeat that about 200 times you might be a bit sore. This is actually what you do when you’re shoveling snow, it’s just you don’t realize it.
Some simple physics: The further something is away from you the heavier it is on your joints. This is actually an exponential relationship, meaning if something is twice as far away, it is four times the load. So my first basic thing is to have a compact shovel – the shorter handle you can manage the better. However, this is sometimes a trade off for having to bend more, which we will get to in a second. Having the right shovel in terms of size and length can help in the long run.
Tip #1: The place people run into problems most while moving snow is that they tend to pick up a load, then twist and throw it. Twisting under load makes your lower back extremely vulnerable, especially with a flexed spine (ie bent forward). Position seem familiar?
If you can pick up the load and throw it straight in front of you it lowers the impact on your back significantly. Pushing it in front of you also works, using one of those large sled like shovels. It may take some creative positioning but your back will thank you.
Tip #2: People have a dominant side, and feel more comfortable moving with that side. My next tip is to switch sides frequently in order to give one side a rest. You can do this with every 10 shovel loads, every 5 or whatever you like. Make a system and use it. Not only will this help your back, but it will also lower the impact on your shoulders and arms. This usually means you can go for longer if you need to. However, this isn’t always the best way to do things.
Tip #3: If you’re not in fantastic shape and don’t have good cardiovascular health, take frequent breaks – even long ones. The snow isn’t going anywhere (until April) so you have lots of time. Lifting and repetitive movement is hugely anaerobic activity and can get your heart rate to dangerous levels for long periods of time (hence frequent heart attacks). Keep your exertion levels in check. If you need to, stop and take 2 minutes – is your heart rate back to below 60% of your maximum? Then continue. As you work harder, your body will take longer to recover from the exertion and if you find that your heart rate isn’t coming back down even after 5 minutes then stop the activity altogether and come back after a long break. Don’t be a hero just because you want to get the driveway finished. It’s hard work just like any other workout.
Tip #4: To save your shoulders, try to keep your arms bent, especially when you have a loaded shovel and you’re lifting. Having your arms extended puts most of the load directly on your shoulders and they usually aren’t strong enough to support it. Again, imagine if I handed you a 20 pound bar and asked you to hold it straight out in front of you. Your shoulders would think it was about 80 pounds. If you simply bend your arms, and put some force into your biceps and wrists then the load is lessened to the shoulder significantly.
Tip #5: Shovel more frequently if there is a large snowfall. Doing it 2-3 times with a small amount is much better than trying to move 30 centimeters all at once. So many people wait until the snowfall is over and then move a huge amount all at once, rather than moving 1/3 at a time 3 times. Again, in terms of overall volume this will greatly reduce the potential for overload and therefore injury. Better to lift half the amount more often than a larger load and increase risk of hurting yourself.
We here in Ottawa embrace winter (or at least we’re supposed to). Don’t let something as simple as clearing your driveway be the reason you have to rehab a serious back injury or shoulder problem this holiday season.
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to SHARE it on social media. And, if you have a problem with your back or shoulders you need help with, feel free to contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter @strengthottawa or find me on Facebook here.
As a bonus, here’s my dog Woofie enjoying the snow! Hope you have a great day!
** This is an excerpt from my upcoming course for trainers on knee rehabilitation. If you are a trainer reading this and would like to know more, please feel free to contact me. If you are a client with knee issues and have questions also feel free to contact me.**
The knee is one of the most complex joints in the body in terms of demand. It is asked all day long to help propel us in various directions, sit down and stand up, climb stairs or even bend down to pick things up. It is a small wonder that over time the mechanisms within this joint tend to wear down over time.
Osteoarthritis is defined as degeneration (over time) of joint cartilage, which is the protective coating that surrounds our joints and keeps the joint surfaces gliding over each other. In the knee there are two of these – articular cartilage at the end of the long bone (ie the femur) and the meniscus which is a padding between the bones of the knee. For the knee, osteoarthritis is the degeneration of articular cartilage, which leads to degeneration of the meniscus (kind of a chicken and the egg issue). Once these two components wear down over time or are subjected to too much stress it creates inflammation, pain and eventually the joint in question usually needs to be replaced.
In my practice, there are what we call “warning signs” that knee degeneration is taking place. This actually begins long before things like pain. The issue with most regular exercisers and especially type A personalities is that unless there is pain associated with the movement, it gets ignored and simply leads to further damage.
Osteoarthritis has 5 stages. The first of which is a healthy knee joint, or stage 0. Stages 1 and 2 are generally very mild with only bone spur growth. These result from impact between the bones. By the end of stage 2 a person may start to experience stiffness and tenderness or pain after a long run or walk.
What I’m going to point out is that the usual symptoms that one would start to notice come at the END of STAGE 2. By this time synovial fluid has degenerated, there may be mild narrowing within the joint space and there are bone spurs.
Something to listen for when your knee joint is moving is something called crepitus – which is a popping, cracking or grating sound in the knee during movement. This is really your first warning sign that joint degeneration is taking place. So you’re wondering what that noise is or if you should be worried if your knees are “talking to you”? Yes, you probably should and can think about addressing it at that stage, not waiting until stiffness or pain kicks in. This noise typically means you are already in stage 2 of osteoarthritis.
Again, by this point you should definitely be addressing the issues in your knees.
Stage 3 and 4 of osteoarthritis are the point where pain and stiffness are fairly constant, and medical intervention in terms of cortisone shots and surgery become options. Hopefully you’re not at this stage yet and can avoid it as long as possible.
Now – another thing I’m very blunt about is that degeneration of this joint is inevitable over time. Especially for active people it is a reality – and the more active, the more likely the degeneration is going to be progressed. But how can we slow down the process and not progress through these stages as quickly? There are two main ways and the good news is that both of them are fairly easy to accomplish:
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obviously less load on the knees over time means less degeneration. From a loading perspective, for every 10 pounds of weight loss the knee is subjected to 48,000 pounds LESS compressive load – for every mile walked. Considering most people should walk 4-6 miles per day, that’s 88 MILLION (or over 40,000 tons) pounds less load per year.
If you’re not at a good weight for your body then focus on whatever weight loss you can accomplish and every little bit will help reduce the degeneration in your knees.
Strengthen Your Muscles
The more your muscles can take pressure off of the joint during movement, the less load they are taking – especially during exercise – but even with regular walking. The knee has many muscles that cross it and give support to it. Strengthening them all and maintaining a good strength ratio between muscles like the hamstring and quadriceps is also important. Progressive loading of forces is also important so that you’re not doing too much too soon and making things worse rather than better.
In terms of what exercises are best, studies have shown that the most stressful knee forces come from lunging, whereas a dynamic squat is the least stressful. And yes, your knees can come in front of your toes IF THEY SHOULD. Restricting forward movement of the knees does reduce shear through them – but then transfers it into the hips and lower back, which can cause other problems. Loading appropriately is essential.
Work On Balance and Stability
This is not a major way to avoid issues, but having a stable joint means that one side or direction is not constantly wearing down more so than another. Another major source of knee trauma and major loads that cause problems is things like falls and sudden shear movements through the joint. Developing the ability to avoid these things, especially as you age is vital for good knee health.
You need your knees. You need them as long as possible and once the degeneration is there, it can’t be reversed. Current studies do show that there are cells in the knee that could potentially regenerate cartilage but there has been nothing found to stimulate this. So if you already have noise inside your joint, please take some steps to counter the onset of this. For prevention of pain down the road of life, it is important to give your knees a healthy amount of strength and make sure your weight is in line.
If you need any more information or want to know my best ways that have worked with my clients, please feel free to contact me here, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via social media @strengthottawa. And feel free to like and share! Until next time, keep your joints happy and healthy!
I’ve been in the physical fitness industry for over fifteen years and dealing with injuries and special conditions for most of that time. I’ve dealt with some of the most extreme cases you can think of and wanted to put together some comprehensive answers for people who need help figuring out how to help themselves with injuries.
Over the years the case I see most often is lower back pain. This can manifest itself in various different ways for different people. The typical stages of this type of injury are:
- General stiffness, usually upon waking up where it feels like you need to move around a bit in order to get blood moving again. This might also happen during the day at work or after driving in your car for a period of time. I call this Stage 1. Think of this as a check engine light coming on in your car.
- Constant stiffness and losing the ability to move quickly without a sudden jolt of pain. Often this is the stage where people start to seek help from some form of practitioner. There may be occasional sciatic pain down one leg or positions that cause discomfort, especially lying down. Sleeping may be difficult some nights. This is Stage 2. This is where you really need to start paying attention, although you really should have at Stage 1.
- Pain when moving. Typically this is sciatic referral pain (ie numbness or tingling down one leg or both) or sometimes SI Joint pain (beside the tailbone near the pelvis) and the whole joint area in the hip and lower back is stiff and sore constantly. Sometimes this can mean a disc herniation or bulge or an SI Joint displacement. This is Stage 3 and can render you unable to move properly at all, sit for periods of time and you will be in pain and likely have to resort to pain drugs to function.
This article is a series for letting you know why this pain happens, what you can do about it yourself without having to spend tons of money on physiotherapy, and how to prevent it in the future.
So to begin with, why does this pain happen?
Pain is a signal from your body telling you that something is either out of place or unable to support what it needs to. I wrote a previous article about pain and your body here if you would like to read about the concept of pain as a signal.
We spend hours each day in positions where our spine has to bend in ways that it is unsupported and doesn’t like to sit for periods of time. The most typical place for this is work – sitting in a desk chair hunched over a computer. As you sit forward, your lower spine and pelvis rotate and flex into the opposite position that they should be.
Basically when you’re standing your lower back has a curve (like it is supposed to), and when you sit it doesn’t – which puts pressure on and between the discs. It also means that some muscles have to work more to maintain the position and get tired, while others don’t do much work at all. Imagine at work you had two employees who did all the work, and two who showed up but never did anything. The two who did all the work would eventually get either burned out or pissed off. Muscles like to work together.
Stiffness is your body’s way of saying either “I don’t want to move” or “I can’t move well” – either way it isn’t a good thing. This can be muscular and can also be fascial restriction as well. It is a good idea to address both because without a very experienced imagining tech you’re not going to know for sure which one is the problem, and it is easy to address both issues.
What eventually happens when your joints and muscles tire and your fascia doesn’t allow movement is pain. Remember always that this is a warning signal and therefore should be looked at when it happens, not ignored like many of us tend to do.
So if I am starting to get these warning signs and have entered Stage 1 of the process, what should I do?
Awareness here is key. There are multiple avenues for relief at this stage, which is a good thing. In my next blog post I’m going to outline the best stretches and movements that you can use in order to bring relief to this area but for now let’s work on the immediate things.
However, in the meantime what you can do immediately is assess your position when doing things like sitting, moving around and even simply relaxing on the couch. Are you in a compromised spinal position? This means that something is usually twisted, flexed or positioned in a way that isn’t optimally aligned and eventually will cause a problem.
Example: recently I worked with an anesthesiologist who stood on the same side of his patients and bent and rotated to do his job – every day for hours. He didn’t realize that his spine was literally starting to twist into a new position. Bringing awareness to this and asking him to simply move to the other side of the table half the time brought him instant relief.
If you are a desk worker this can be as simple as moving your work station to a better position. It can also mean getting up frequently throughout the day and getting out of a bad position. I tell my clients to set a timer and stand up ideally at least every 30 minutes, and more often if they can. Walk in a circle or visit a colleague, do a lap around the floor or whatever you can do for a minute or two.
When standing, figure out if you’re always putting weight on one leg. Public transit riding is terrible for this. So is standing for long periods of time cooking, or doing any other type of work where you stand for periods of time. This shift onto one side creates a slight tilt in the pelvis and more load onto one hip, resulting in fatigue on one side. If you are, simply focus on shifting onto the other side once in a while.
If you’re driving long distances and have back pain when driving, try reclining your seat a bit more to open up your hip angle and decrease your lumbar spine flexion. It’s not a solution, but it can help with symptoms.
If necessary, even keep a log, writing down when you feel stiff. Is it after every day at work? Is it when you wake up or lie down? Is it after you have done three hours of gardening (which is probably normal)? Again, the awareness is important, especially if you want to figure out the source of the issue.
I’m always telling my clients to be more proactive and invest in their bodies. It really doesn’t take that much to be aware of when and why things are happening.
If you are already in Stage 2 or 3 then you need help. Go ahead and invest your time and consult a competent physiotherapist (sports therapists are generally best), chiropractor (ideally not a back cracker but a good ART specialist) or a good rehabilitative strength trainer (with credentials and education) like myself. Almost every day I help people reduce and eliminate back pain in a short period of time with simple solutions that you can perform on yourself with minimal time investment. However, you need to do the first steps first.
In my next article I’ll discuss the mechanics of back pain and your “core” and some simple movements and solutions to help you if you’re still experiencing problems. Feel free to like this article, subscribe to my site on the main page and follow me at @paradigmottawa on Twitter or Paradigm Personal Training on Facebook. And, of course if you have any questions I’m only an email away at email@example.com. See you next time!
I know this might be a bit early, but in three weeks it is 2016 and a whole new set of people will be undertaking new fitness goals. The first thing I need to mention is that in the fitness world there tends to be a lot of elitism, and I’ve already seen the “resolutionist” memes going around Facebook. The fact we even have a nickname for new exercisers says it all.
With society the way it is and a massive obesity epidemic, we should all play our own part in not only helping these people get into fitness, but keeping them around as long as possible. See – you’ve already swallowed the pill of fitness, but you are in the vast minority. Over half the population doesn’t exercise at all, and only about 10% regularly (meaning 3x a week and sustained for over six months) because it just isn’t on their radar and never has been. But something is going to drive them into a gym (besides marketing hype) very soon. And for some reason many of them stop after a few weeks.
I want to keep them there. I want to have thousands of people NOT stop working out after six weeks and get healthier. Then hopefully some of those people can inspire others to get started, and snowball effect takes place and boom, no more obesity. Pipe dream? Maybe. But we can all do our part to help keep as many around as possible.
So here’s a list of ways as “fitness people” we can all help make sure that whomever you know who is getting started stays at it long term and gets to the state that you’re in: loving exercise and feeling a ton better.
STOP GIVING ADVICE AND GIVE SUPPORT INSTEAD
Your friend/co-worker/spouse knows you’re a fitness person. It’s probably obvious when you talk about what you did on the weekend or take off your jacket. Our instinct as soon as someone outside of our world wants to jump in is to tell them what worked for us, which simply may not be what would motivate or work for that person. Don’t tell them to start running five times a week for weight loss, or start deadlifting like you do. They are likely getting it from multiple sources and it can be not only confusing but overwhelming. People don’t change overnight.
The simplest thing is to say “awesome news!” and if they ask questions tell them what worked for you, but also let them know what you went through in order to arrive at that conclusion. Hopefully they will figure out something for themselves. If they went to the gym that morning, give them a high five and leave it at that. Let them know that it took you as a fitness person a long time to get to where you’re at and if they want to get support, you’re there but don’t overdo it.
And please don’t suddenly become a personal trainer and offer to work out with them and show them everything you do. Swallow your pride and tell them if they need it to hire a professional. You probably did too.
ASK WHAT THEIR ANNUAL GOAL IS
Typically the first few weeks as a new exerciser is confusing and tough. It is a new thing to fit into your schedule, you have no idea what you’re doing and are nervous every time you step into a facility. As a method of support, ask them where they want to be at the end of the YEAR. Not next month. Again, I’m trying to reinforce the long term aspect of this for sustainability.
Another way to motivate them might be “you know, I signed up for a Spartan Race in June – you should think about it” or “Hey, I’m thinking about doing the Army ½ marathon in September so I started training for the 10k in May”. Let them know how long it takes to achieve things. By next Christmas, where do they want to be? With any luck it will trigger the need to sustain what they are doing.
INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
We all have one. Maybe you have a trainer you really like and have gotten great results from. Maybe you get amazing recipes from a web site you love. Maybe you subscribe to a message board you got a lot of support from. Maybe they could sub in on your winter ultimate team and see how much fun group sports can be. Introduce them to someone they see you talking to at the gym.
One of the hardest things any person can do is walk into a gym for the first time, and if they approach you and just need a friendly face, don’t get upset that they interrupted your third set of squats. Take a longer rest break and chat for a bit, even if you’re there to work hard. It won’t kill you or your gains.
SHOW THEM WHAT OPTIONS THERE ARE
Some people just aren’t gym people, and that’s fine. The world of health literally has unlimited options. I have a client whose husband is a World Champion in Skijoring, which is like sled dogging on a bicycle and sounds totally awesome (and I had never heard of it). Whether it’s pole dancing, skating, weightlifting or aquafit, the fact that people are moving at all is really great.
So maybe your person seems to feel like the gym isn’t for them. You probably have a friend who does something else cool that you can tell them about. Even as kids we all either played individual or team sports and that rarely changes as an adult. Ultimate Frisbee might not work, but then racquet sports might. Plus the challenge of learning something new is always fun.
PLAY NICE IN THE SANDBOX
This final one is for all of the people who complain about the “clutter” in the gym in January. Instead of thinking that “these people” are doing something wrong, change your attitude. Smile at them. Offer to let them work in on whatever you are using. If you see someone looking lost offer to help them. Be nice. Once, you were probably that person (I know I was).
Remember, these people are probably watching everything you are doing because you’re the fitness person and they want to get there. Being nice to newcomers can go a long way in getting them to stick around and feel like part of a community. CrossFit boxes are fantastic at this because they are usually totally inclusionary and that’s how they retain people. And those people make progress, at least far more than they would on the couch at home.
Sometimes a simple “hey, are you new here” and an offer to help can go a long way. Be nice.
If you liked this, please share it around and take it to heart. I’m not just writing this for fitness people, by the way. If you are thinking about stepping into a gym for the first time, please don’t be intimidated. There is a world of options out there and a lot of really good people and support for you.
My other advice is also don’t wait until January and just get started now, but that’s a whole other article.
Feel free to follow, share and like this and until next time make sure if you see someone in January you help them out!