'Tis the season! For shoveling snow that is. So I thought this would be an appropriate time to discuss proper body mechanics for lifting.
I was reminded of this issue while, of all things, watching old videos of my kids when they were just toddlers. You may ask, what does silly home movies have to do with shoveling snow? My wife is also a physical therapist. Yes, its fairly common for PTs to marry PTs. Since we share the same profession, we will often observe something in everyday things that reminds us of work.
Back to the family videos ... we were watching a video of our daughter from when she was about 18- 24-months-old. In the video, we observed how she squatted down to pick up a toy. We realized then that toddlers seem to use perfect body mechanics when picking up an object off the floor. They use their legs to squat down and keep their backs relatively straight. A toddler tends to use this technique to compensate for the weight of their head and developing balance. But it is interesting to watch as it is an innate behavior that doesn't need to be taught.
Adults on the other hand, often need to be taught this behavior later in life after bad habits have developed. Poor body mechanics and improper lifting technique can be a major risk factor for lower back injuries. Given the time of year, physical therapists can usually count on a few snow shoveling-related back injuries every year. In an attempt to prevent those injuries, let's review some main concepts especially as they relate to shoveling snow.
- Lift with your legs, not your back — keep your back straight and bend using your knees and hips. The quads, glutes, and hamstrings are large muscles that are well-equipped for heavy lifting.
- Avoid twisting of the spine — instead turn with your legs and hips. The twisting motion of the spine especially with a large compressive load (i.e., shovel full of snow) is hard on the intervertebral discs.
- Take breaks and pace yourself. If you feel yourself getting winded or short of breath, take a break. Don't take more than you can handle on the shovel, especially with a wet heavy snow.
- Try a crooked shovel. Those funny looking crooked handles on shovels do serve a purpose. The angle in the handle improves the ergonomics of the shovel so you don't have to squat as far.
Be careful when shoveling! Merry Christmas!