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Shovel ready: Get prepared now for winter snow shoveling

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GINA R. HEINE
October 26, 2009
— Shovels of every color, design, material and size line a wall inside Ace Hardware, just waiting for the barrage of unprepared residents when Mother Nature dumps her first snowfall.

The morning after what felt like endless hours of shoveling heavy snow, our muscles will ache from all the lifting and twisting.


Sound familiar?


Doing some easy stretching and preparation now can help alleviate those shoveling pains.


"For some people, the hardest thing they do all year is shovel snow," said Bill Canovan, supervisor of therapy services at Dean Northview Clinic.


Stretching

People can prepare with gentle stretching of the lower back by doing back bends or lying on their back and bringing their knees to the chest one at a time, Canovan said.


"Any stretching would be done only to the point of gentle stress, no pain at all," he said.


Next is core strengthening. It's the abdominal, hip flexors, buttocks and back muscles that control where the spine is, Canovan said.


You can have good mobility and core strength, but if your legs aren't strong enough, then the back suffers, he said. People can do partial squats or wall slidesóleaning against a wall or an exercise ball on the wall and sliding up and down.


Then there's cardio.


"It's a hard workout for a lot of people," he said.


Walking can help prepare you for 30 to 45 minutes of shoveling, he said.


"Knowing your limits is real important," he said.


If limits in any of these areas prevent you from clearing your snow, you should hire someone to do it, he said.


People with a history of cardiac problems or who become short of breath and worn out by such work should check with their physician before shoveling.


Finding the right shovel


Of all the shovels at Ace on River Street, the most expensive was sold outóa $28.99 shovel with a bent handle and aluminum blade. Another version of the bent handle was in stock for $22.99.


The good ol' $8.99 shovel is the most popular at Ace, store manager Steve Accola said. But the bent- or crooked-handle shovels have become increasingly popular over recent winters, he said.


They are more expensive, but the bent-handle is better for the back, Canovan said.


"It's the difference between carrying groceries at arms length and close to you," he said. "The bent handle keeps the load in closer, uses your legs a little more and a little less stress on the back."


A lighter shovel is better for people not in perfect shape.


Longer handles put the weight farther from the body, so even a light shovel full puts a lot of stress on the back, Canovan said.


Moving snow

Do some stretching before and after you start shoveling, Canovan said.


Do shovel a little at a time.


Do push the snow to a side, then lift.


Don't twist the spine, which adds stress on discs and soft tissue.


Do turn the whole body, keeping feet and hips going the same direction.


Do bend your knees, and keep your lower back straight.


Do bend at the hip, but not the lower back.



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