Deck the Halls- Ergonomically!

The holidays should be joyful, not painful. We’ve compiled some helpful ergonomics tips to prevent musculoskeletal injuries as you prepare for the holiday season.

Shoveling Snow

Shoveling snow can be a dangerous task: if not done properly, it can cause serious back injury including strains, sprains, and even slipped discs. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, close to 30,000 snow shoveling back injuries are reported each year! There are a variety of snow shovels on the market today, including ergonomically-designed shovels with slightly bent handles or with secondary handles to limit bending and keep your back in a more comfortable position.

Various types of ergonomically-designed snow shovels

Here are some additional snow shoveling tips to help you prevent injury this winter:

  • If you’re able to simply push the snow (much better than lifting and throwing), a wide faced shovel is ideal.
  • If you have to scoop and toss the snow, use a lighter weight version with a narrow head to reduce the stress on your back. This is especially important if you’re dealing with heavy, wet snow!
  • Scoop snow by squatting with your hips/knees – don’t bend at the waist.
  • Keep the shovel outside in the cold rather than in a warm porch or garage. This will reduce the amount of snow that will melt and freeze to the shovel.
  • Treat shoveling as any other strenuous exercise: warm up and stretch before you head out and be sure to perform a back extension every few minutes to relieve the tension in your muscles and discs.

How to do a back extension stretch

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing and dress in layers.
  • The top of the shovel handle should reach your chest while standing next to it.
  • Push and scoop in the direction that you’re going to throw the snow to avoid twisting of the back.
  • Start early – keep up with the snow so you are shoveling a smaller volume at any given time.
  • For extreme amounts of snow, hire a snow removal service or negotiate a deal with a neighbour who has a snowblower.
  • If you have your own snowblower, help out the neighbours that need it. Santa may provide a little extra in your stocking!

Hanging Lights

When installing lights on your home or trees, make sure the ladder is tall enough to access your immediate work area without over-reaching. Not only can this cause you to lose your balance and fall from the ladder, but this repetitive action can also cause shoulder strain and soft tissue injury. Make sure the ladder is on firm footing and move it as you go so you aren’t forced to reach long distances.  Better yet, have someone to help you move and stabilize the ladder. Reward them with eggnog.

Tackling the Tree

Artificial Christmas trees can be heavy and bulky in their packaging, and are typically stored in inconvenient locations such as the attic or crawlspace, which may cause you to handle the tree while on a ladder or hunched over.

Actual warning label from an artificial tree box

Consider these tips:

Proper lifting technique

  • Make sure you have someone else with you to reduce the awkward and heavy lifting.
  • Use proper lifting technique: keep your “nose between your toes”, squat at the hips, and keep the weight close to your body. In fact, proper lifting should be used for lifting all boxes of decorations, not just the tree.
  • When securing the tree in the stand, kneel down closer to where you are working instead of bending over at the waist.
  • Let the kids decorate the lower half of the tree so you don’t have to bend down. Stick to the upper half.

Gift Wrapping

You may find it surprising that wrapping gifts can also lead to back injury. Think about the last time you wrapped gifts. Were you spread out of the floor, twisted into a pretzel? Did you hold the paper with your nose while struggling with the tape?

  • Gather all your materials in one place before you get started and wrap gifts on a higher surface such as a countertop so you aren’t bending unnecessarily.
  • Use a pop-up tape dispenser that fits on your hand so you don’t have to contort yourself to hold the paper in place while you tape it.
  • Rather than wrap, use gift bags. No contortion required!
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