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Does it Hurt When You Go Like This?

A man walks into a doctor's office, lifts his arm and says, "Doc, it hurts when I go like this." The doctor says, "Then don't go like this." It's an old joke and a familiar punch line, but you might not be having the last laugh this winter.

Unfortunately, when it comes to shoveling, the persistent and abundant snow has made it difficult to avoid doing at least one of those things that can make you hurt. And according to Jill Capalbo , a Stamford based chiropractor and massage therapist, the snow-related activity has taken a toll on shovelers, of whom she has treated profusions this season. "I've seen an increase in lower back sprains because of all the shoveling," she says, adding, ruefully, "A lot of it has come down all at once."

According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission , in 2009, more than 118,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms and doctors' offices for injuries related to snow shoveling or manual removal of ice.

It seems that some snowstorm refuse is easier to dispatch with than others. New snow's density ranges from about 5 percent when the air temperature is 14 degrees Fahrenheit to about 20 percent when the temperature is 32 degrees. Which means that each shovelful of snow can weigh some 20 pounds.

When you do take to the snow, use proper shoveling technique. In addition to avoiding shovel overload, Jill suggests that shovelers "push the snow instead of lifting it. And if you have to lift, she says, "Bend your knees and lift with your legs and not your back, and avoid twisting or throwing snow over your shoulder." She also recommends that shovelers dress in layers, but, she adds, "Don't allow the clothes to bind your movement as you'll need full range of motion so your muscles don't spasm."

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) offers some additional tips for digging out that will help you keep out of harm's way.

* Before digging in, warm up your muscles. Jog in place or run up stairs and stretch.

* Ergonomically correct shovels are easier on the body than the old-fashioned, straight-shafted ones. They are typically lighter and have contoured handles that are designed to reduce or eliminate bending and decrease lifting.

* Take breaks every 15 minutes, or whenever you need to. During your break time, drink water, stand up straight, stretch and walk around.

* Perhaps most importantly, listen -- and pay attention to -- the signals your body sends you. Stop immediately if you feel pain, shortness of breath or chest discomfort.

Jill stresses that getting into the routine of a year-round exercise program is beneficial in every way, and it also holds true for snow removal. She checks her patients to determine which muscles are weak, then she'll "show the patient what they need to do to strengthen these muscles to avoid future injury."

Although winter still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, you can find some solace in the fact that the sun is staying out a little longer each day. Which will give you that much more time to shovel.

Have you avoided snow-related injuries? How? Let me know here.

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