I am accustomed to working with people every day who are already in pain. But if I can share a few tips and reminders that might prevent you from getting injured, I'd prefer to do just that.
So, here are a couple of things to keep in mind as the snowpocolypse/flurries bear down on us:
• If you have to shovel, protect your back by bending at your knees and hips. The discs that separate your vertebral bodies and provide cushion and movement are more vulnerable to injury if you're lifting with a rounded back. Your erector spinae muscles (which extend your spine) will fatigue quickly if you're over relying on them to do the heavy lifting. Use your glutes, quads and hamstrings to power your legs and spare your back.
• When shoveling, alternate sides so that you'll reduce the risk of developing an overuse tendonopathy (irritation of your tendons). Set a number and change hands and sides evenly so that you spread the load and demand. With a heavy snow and a long driveway, you might be going at it for a while. Be smart about it.
• Shoveling snow can be vigorous exercise. We are coming off a season where diets and exercise typically have gone south for a while. Just take it easy and recognize that you may be more deconditioned at this time of year than you think. Take breaks if you have to.
• Beware of black ice! Last year, I stepped out of my front door to retrieve my paper. My feet nearly shot out from under me as I flailed to regain my balance. Black ice can be very deceptive. All looked normal as I stepped out without first assessing the path. But I was lucky that I didn't crack my head open. I remember going into my clinic that day and telling my office manager, "We're going to have several post-surgical patients for Colles (distal radius in forearm) and shoulder injuries within 2-3 weeks." I wasn't rooting for it, of course. But I knew that the treacherous conditions were going to cause numerous F.O.O.S.H. (Fall On Out Stretched Hand) injuries. Sure enough, we had an influx of just such patients over the next month. Take care, wear sturdy shoes, and take your time!
• Offer your help. If you live in the suburbs and you know that your elderly neighbor can't clear their own walk, consider giving them a hand. If you're in the city and see someone struggling to navigate those treacherous corner crossings (usually several days post-storm, when massive puddles of slush make things especially hairy for older folks), consider offering them your arm. It might slow you down for a moment, but it'll feel good to get a "thank you" for your efforts. Falls for the elderly typically come with outcomes that are much worse than for younger generations.
Go out and enjoy the season's flakes. Have fun, but take good care. And remember, you'll be back on the beach in no time!