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Try to back off the heavy snow lifting, Elgin therapist advises

Physical therapists Trevor Mancl right JustBasi demonstrate how properly use snow shovel reduce back straother problems. | Janelle Walker for

Physical therapists Trevor Mancl, right, and Justin Basi demonstrate how to properly use a snow shovel to reduce back strain and other problems. | Janelle Walker for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 19, 2014 6:16AM

ELGIN — Once the snow started flying in November, physical therapist Justin Basi knew he would start to see many clients with the same problem — back strains caused by shoveling snow.

“If you are lifting 30 pounds on a shovel over and over again, but spend (your) life at a desk or in a car,” the rest of the week, problems are bound to occur, said Basi, facility manager at Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers in Elgin.

This time of year, he is treating many patients who have strained their backs by improperly moving snow. Other seasonal problems are wrist fractures and injured shoulders from falling on the ice underneath the snow.

The injuries can be avoided, Basi said. It starts with using proper body mechanics and proper equipment when moving snow by hand.

And, he added, even people who are in the car or behind a desk can do things to help strengthen their body’s core and prevent future injuries, too.

The worst thing a person — and particularly a person who is out of shape — can do is “to bend and rotate at the same time. That puts a lot of pressure in the discs,” he said.

Other issues he has seen that are the direct result of shoveling snow include shoulder muscle tears and disc herniations, Basi said.

The best way to prevent those injuries is to be smart when moving snow. Getting an ergonomically correct shovel — the kind with a bend in it to make lifting easier — is a good start, he said.

Then shovelers should work to push snow as much as possible, rather than lifting and throwing the snow.

When having to lift, he recommends using the hips and knees to lift the load, and not the back.

“Don’t reach out too far in front of you — keep the load close to body” when lifting that shovel full, he said.

He trains clients who have come in with snow-moving-related injuries on how to prevent them in the future. Clients practice on both a conventional shovel and the bent-handled kind, made to be easier on the back.

It’s worth spending another $10 on the curved shovel, he added, because they can help reduce injuries.

About a third of his business comes from people who live somewhat sedentary lifestyles or who are “weekend warriors,” Basi added. Those weekend warrior types can find they hurt themselves by tackling too much on one project, he said.

But even those stuck at a desk for eight hours a day can and should learn how to strengthen their core muscles, Basi said.

Sitting with good posture, moving the computer screen higher, and making sure a work chair is set at the proper position can help.

“Do low back stretches that extend your back, holding for five to 10 seconds,” Basi said. “Do back bends, and stretch your wrists — all held for a few seconds. Take opportunities to stand, extend your back and roll your shoulders backward.”

If an injury does occur, he suggests using inflammation-reducing over-the-counter medication and cold compacts first. But if the pain and swelling persist over more than three or four days, Basi said, it’s probably time to seek treatment.

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