Over the past few years, we here in Denver have gotten spoiled–it seems we barely had to to break out the snow shovel all season. This year, though, is different, and it seems like it’s been one snow storm after another here in the Mile High City. And we have our heaviest snow months of March and April still ahead.
If you’re out after every storm with the shovel in hand, you may have noticed that you are coming in more sore than you expected, perhaps with jaw pain or a headache as well as back pain. In this case, the problem may not be in your back, it could be in your jaw.
Tips for Shoveling Smart
There are some things you should try to make sure you’re shoveling properly and not causing your back undue stress.
- Use a snow shovel that’s the proper size. It should be long enough that you don’t have to bend over to shovel, but not so long that it’s too hard to lift the snow.
- Lift smaller loads of snow. How full the shovel should be depends on the density of snow. You should never be straining to lift the snow.
- Bend your knees and remember to lift with your legs rather than your back. Also try to engage your abdominal muscles to aid your back.
- Certain movements are harder on your back, like twisting and bending forward. Try to minimize these.
- Try walking snow to where you want it, rather than throwing it. If you must throw it, step in the direction of the throw to reduce the strain on your back.
- Take frequent breaks. Straighten up during breaks and walk around. Do backward bends to help counteract the stress from too much bending forward.
If you are following these tips, but still have problems with pain, you should talk to your doctor and possibly a TMJ dentist.
Is It TMJ?
You might think that you jaw isn’t doing anything while you’re shoveling snow, but the truth is this may be some of the hardest work your jaw does all year. When you are trying to lift the heavy snow, your body is trying to leverage its strength in a way that can be very awkward. To facilitate this, your jaw clamps down to anchor and stabilize the body’s central axis, the spine.
If you jaw isn’t properly aligned, as in TMJ, you might experience excess pain in the jaw, but your jaw might also prove less efficient for the work being requested of it. This can contribute to back, neck, and other pains.
The most common injuries from snow shoveling are in the back and shoulder. If you hurt elsewhere, especially in the jaw or head, it’s likely that TMJ plays a role.