Wet and heavy snow creates quite a potential problem for the many people who have to shovel it. As it continues to pile up, I expect to have numerous people hobble into my office desperately seeking relief from their low back pain. To explain how this happens and why it can affect almost anyone, I will give you an example of a gentleman who came to see me last year after shoveling snow.

During one of the heavier snowfalls last year, this gentleman thought that he would just wait for it to finish coming down before he began shoveling. Although this meant that he only had to clear his driveway one time, it also meant that he had to shovel the total accumulation of snow all at once. Because he did not normally experience any serious back pain and was a fairly healthy guy, he felt that clearing his snow-covered driveway would be a simple task.

Once the snow had stopped falling, he dug out his winter boots, gloves, and jacket from the closet. However, when he bent over to put on his boots, he felt a mild stiffness in his low back. He did not even give it a second thought since he had been feeling this mild tension in his lower back off and on for the past two weeks.

As he shoveled, his lower back felt like it was loosening up and the tension soon disappeared. After questioning him on the following day, I learned he was even rather careless about how he shoveled. Instead of pushing the snow in front of him while keeping his low back straight, he scooped up the snow, rotated his body, and threw it aside.

This technique not only caused him to twist his back repetitively, but it also put excessive stress on the joints and muscles of that region. After the driveway was all done, he retired to his recliner for a well-deserved short rest that ended up being a prolonged nap.

When he woke up, he noted a burning sensation in his low back. He attempted to sit up but felt immediate acute pain in his low back. He soon realized that even getting out of that chair was not going to be an easy task. Whenever he moved, he experienced waves of acutely painful muscle spasms in his low back.

When the gentleman finally came to see me the next day, he was fairly distraught. The medication he had taken did not help and he was unable to sleep all night. After I asked him numerous questions and completed a thorough chiropractic examination, it was apparent that his problem was in the facet joints located between the lumbar vertebrae at the lowermost portion of his spine.

The mild low back stiffness he had been experiencing over the last two weeks told me that he likely already had a reduced range of motion in that area long before he started shoveling snow. This made his back vulnerable to injury when he attempted repetitive twisting and lifting motions. As a result, inflammation accumulated in and around the joints and nerves of his low back.

Not only did this make the joints very sore and stiff, but the inflammation also chemically irritates the spinal nerves as they pass between the vertebrae. These nerves are responsible for controlling pain sensation and the contraction of the large muscles in his low back.
Whenever they are irritated or pinched, the nerves create acute sensations of pain and make the muscles of the low back go into a forceful contraction or spasm.

To summarize, the facet joints in his lower back were acutely inflamed and very restricted in their movement. As well, the neighbouring spinal nerves were severely irritated, which resulted in severe pain and muscle spasms. More subtle cases of this same problem (in the neck or back) are what chiropractors treat in their practice more than any other problem.

If you have any questions about back pain and how chiropractic can help your back problem, please feel free to call me directly.