A chiropractor's tips to dealing with winter weather.
It happens every snowfall. Folks go out to clean up the mess. They come back as a mess.
Shoveling snow can be great exercise, but it has plenty of pitfalls -- for your back, your shoulders, possibly even your heart.
Dr. Karen Erickson, a Matawan native, New York City chiropractor and a spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, knows the deal.
“The most important thing about shoveling snow is that you need to know what kind of physiology you’re starting out with in your own body -- your age, your general fitness level,” Erickson said. “Shoveling is a combination of aerobic exercise and weightlifting.”
How to get the through this de facto workout without getting worked over? Erickson, who lives in Bergen County, has a few tips:
1. Stay hydrated
“If you’re dehydrated, you are much more likely to get strained muscles or sore muscles, and it could even effect your cardiovascular system,” Erickson said. “So water is important. A lot of people have a cup of coffee and then go out and shovel snow, and they get really dehydrated.”
Also: “Make sure your blood sugar is stable, that you’ve eaten,” she said. “Don’t do it on an empty stomach.”
2. Choose the right shovel
“The good news is, they’ve really changed the design of shovels. There are ergonomic shovels now,” Erickson said. “Generally we look for shovels that have bent handles, so we have more leverage -- the shovel does the work for you.”
There’s more. The shovel can’t be too short.
“The length of the shovel is important,” she said. “You want to bend down maybe 10 degrees at most from you hip, to pick up the snow.”
But long doesn’t necessarily mean wide. Too wide can be a detriment.
“They have these gigantic wide shovels, which seem kind of cool, but it’s very tempting to fill the whole thing -- and that can get really heavy,” she said. “You end up carrying more weight on it. So I like smaller shovels.”
3. Move cautiously
Having the proper equipment helps, but your shoveling motion is important as well.
“You want to be more upright,” Erickson explained. “It’s important that you bend your knees. When you load the snow on the shovel and you’re ready to lift, let your knees do the lifting for you.”
She added: “It’s also helpful to separate your hands on the shovel, at least 12 inches apart.”
Erickson is a fan of narrow shovels because it encourages removing snow in moderation.
“The best strategy is to take little sections,” she said. “If the snow is deep, take the first six inches off. Do it in layers.”
One more thing: Ditch the snow to the side, not over the back.
“Try to avoid throwing the snow over your shoulder,” she said. “In places where the snow gets so deep, you have to lift it over your shoulder because there is no place else to put it. But in New Jersey we don’t usually have that problem.”
4. Cool down by stretching
Staying with the workout theme, some post-shoveling stretches can help you avoid next-day soreness. One, in particular, is designed to help your back.
“I tell my patients, get on the floor, or on your bed, and bring your knees to your chest,” Erickson said. “It’s a very safe stretch, even for people who have back problems. Hold it for 30 seconds to a minute. Bend one leg, and then the other, and then both together.”
5. More winter wellness tips
It happens every winter. People come to her practice, Erickson Healing Arts, with “unexplained foot pain, knee pain, hip pain or back pain.”
“We realize it happens after they’re wearing their winter boots for the first time,” she said. “A lot of snow boots and winter boots, they are really effective for what they’re for, but if you have to walk in them a lot, they don’t have good arch support. They don’t hold your foot as tightly as a real shoe. Your feet are swampy in them. Sometimes these boots are very heavy, and it throws people off.”
Just recently, Erickson said, she walked 10 blocks in big snow boots and felt out of sorts afterward.
“It’s one thing to throw on a pair of boots to shovel in your driveway,” she said. “But when you actually go out and walk in them, it’s nice to have boots that not only are warm but have good support. That can make a big difference.”
Perhaps most important of all: Don’t let the weather keep you from walking outdoors, so long as there’s a safe surface.
“People don’t get enough sunshine in the winter,” Erickson said. “They have Vitamin D deficiencies because they’re not getting out. They have increased depression and cabin fever.”
Walking is an antidote for all that, plus it keeps you in shape -- and ready for that next round of shoveling.
“Walking is one of the best exercises, especially in winter,” Erickson said. “If you could walk with nothing in your arms and let your arms swing it’s really the perfect exercise. The human body is designed for it.”
For more information on Erickson Healing Arts, which is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, visit www.ericksonhealingarts.com.