Avoiding Injury and Muscle Tension with Winter Chores

Although we haven't officially hit winter either by date or by the mounds of white stuff here in Wisconsin, winter weather is not far behind. And with it comes the possibility of injury, muscle tension, and stress which can create the winter body blues.
I call the winter body blues are those special aches and pains, spasms and pulled muscles that sometimes accompany the winter chores of snow and ice removal. Even driving in slippery conditions can create extra tension in the body. You may avoid the bulk of these chores if you use a snow removal service. But if you’re doing your own winter chore work, whether occasionally or consistently, try out these tips to beat the winter body blues.
1. Work Smart: when you can't avoid the activity, you need to think about how you can do the activity with the least amount of impact to your body. For shoveling this means good body mechanics, remembering to bend your knees and lift with your legs and to rotate which side of the body you are throwing the snow so you spread the impact better between your two sides. Use a more ergonomic shovel or do the light stuff with a broom which uses a different motion.

2. Pace Yourself: the line from being sore to becoming injured often gets crossed by trying to do too much at one time. I understand that you want or need to get the job done quickly, but even so, taking a few breaks to do a couple stretches and get some water can make a difference and still keep you on your time schedule. Going a bit more slowly to take the time to use the right body mechanics will pay off.
3. Share The Burden: recruit everyone in the family to do part of the job. Many hands might the work light...and will help your back and shoulders! Even little ones can do some parts of the job like a front stoop or a small patch of the work.
4. Consider Hiring Help For Certain Conditions: the really wet snows make the heaviest burdens and even small clearings can strain the body. These might be the snows for which you hire the plow or a neighborhood child.
5. Stretch: using your muscles creates tension, especially when done for longs periods in a repetitive fashion. An important part of preventing the tension from building up into a crisis point is to reduce the tension and return the muscles back to their normal resting length, rather than having the muscles held in shortened, tight state. Full body stretching provided by yoga can be nice but if you're short on time, pick stretches that address the specific areas that are impacted by the work. If you don't know what to do, work with a massage therapist, a physical therapist, an exercise physiologist, or a yoga teacher to find what would serve you.
6. Follow Up With An Epsom Salt Bath: after you've done your work and tried to minimize the impact, you now need to address the tension that did develop. A hot bath with Epsom Salts to draw out the toxins can take the edge off the soreness. Note that if you are doing this in the day and you need to do other work, follow the hot bath by a cool or cold shower rinse so your energy rebounds.
7. Use Arnica: homeopathic arnica or arnica creams further supports the body's aches and pains. The difference between homeopathic arnica versus the cream is that one is for a systemic effect, all over aches and pains, versus area specific body areas. Usually with winter chores it will be a whole body effect so the homeopathic pellets taken 3 x day for 1-2 days will work well.
8. Stay Hydrated: being out in the cold, you may not realize how much energy you are putting out and how much water you are losing through sweating. Muscles tighten when dehydrated. The general rule of thumb is to drink at least 4 ounces of water every sixty minutes depending on how hard you are working. At the least, make sure you drink a big glass once you're done.
9. Get Professional Help When Needed: if you done all of the above and still feel on the edge physically, this is the time to get professional intervention. Get the chiropractic adjustment, the deep tissue or hot stone massage, the acupuncture treatment - whatever techniques fit your needs and philosophy.
10. Rest: last but not least, make sure to get some down time. Whether that means going to bed early, taking an afternoon cat nap, or just getting your feet up while reading a book, rest is a key component to renewal.
©2011, Jamie Durner, Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner & Wellness Educator at Ayurveda Wellness in Pewaukee, WI