Suffering a herniated disc from snow shoveling is a common patient report in cold winter climates. The exertion of lifting, combined with slippery, icy conditions, can increase the risk of intervertebral injury substantially. It is no coincidence that more herniated discs are diagnosed in winter months than in all other seasons.
However, all is not so bleak when it comes to spinal damage that might be caused by snow removal. In fact, many herniations that are discovered following snow shoveling “injuries” demonstrate degenerative markings that place them in existence far before the recent trauma.
In other cases, the snow removal efforts might have actually caused the herniation, but since most mild to moderate disc abnormalities are harmless and asymptomatic, the disc might not be the underlying reason for the pain that might be present. Only a small minority of shoveling-related herniations will require professional medical intervention.
This treatise takes a detailed look at a hotly-debated topic: snow removal bulging disc occurrence. We will profile symptomatic intervertebral conditions, innocent and coincidental intervertebral conditions and the common misdiagnosis of old injuries in relation to a recent incident involving snow shoveling.
It is certainly possible to injure a spinal disc during laborious snow removal. Wet snow is very heavy and many people do not utilize proper lifting or bending techniques, especially as they fatigue and just want to finish the job.
The most common locations for symptomatic snow removal-related herniations are at L4/L5 and L5/S1 which is no surprise, since the lower back does the majority of the brute work when removing snow. Additionally, these are the most common spinal levels to suffer intervertebral prolapses, regardless of actual or suspected causation.
Symptomatic discs will create pain and might enact related neurological symptoms through one of a few possible mechanisms.
The first possible symptomatic mechanism is central spinal stenosis, wherein the disc is compressing the spinal cord (cervical, thoracic or upper lumbar) or the cauda equina (mid to lower lumbar or lumbosacral).
The second possible cause of pain is a pinched nerve caused by disc-enacted neuroforaminal stenosis.
The last possible pathological process that can cause pain is chemical radiculitis, although this will only be possible given several circumstances aligning against the patient. The disc must suffer a rupture or annular tear and irritating proteins must leak out of the nucleus and onto nerve fibers. Additionally, the patient must demonstrate sensitivity to these proteins, as not everyone does.
It should be noted that in many cases, actual neck or back pain experienced from a snow shoveling injury might be more a result of general back strain than from the disc injury itself. However, neurological effects might still occur due to the disc interacting with spinal nerve tissues and might cause symptomatic expressions in the limbs or trunk of the anatomy.
Snow shoveling can and does cause many disc injuries that are not painful. This means that the disc changes in structure, demonstrating a bulge, herniation or rupture, but does not generate any symptoms, since it does not interact with any nerve tissue.
The herniation will show up on imaging studies, such as CT scan or MRI films. However, objective correlation of symptoms should show no relation between the disc irregularity and the present symptomology.
Unfortunately, due to medical mythology, antiquated notions about the nature of pain, and the financial aspirations of the medical sector in general, many innocent disc abnormalities are blamed for causing symptoms, instead of the typical culprit of soft tissue strain related to the injurious event. This is detailed in the section immediately below and constitutes a misdiagnosed herniated disc, since although the disc abnormality exists; it is not the source of pain.
Remember, most mild to moderate intervertebral bulges and herniations are not symptomatic when they first occur, nor are they likely to become symptom generators in the future, unless terribly exacerbated.
Misdiagnosis of disc irregularities is an epidemic occurrence. When it comes to snow shoveling-related disc injury, there are 2 distinct types of misdiagnoses that can deceive patients about the actual nature of their spinal condition.
The first is the variety of asymptomatic herniation mentioned above. The herniation does indeed occur due to the snow shoveling event, but the disc itself is not the cause of pain. It is merely a structural abnormality, like most herniated discs, that does not create any pain. Symptoms are instead generated by transient conditions of muscular strain, or other unrelated process, but blamed on the newly discovered disc bulge.
The second variety of misdiagnosis is personified by older herniations that were not previous discovered until the patient experiences pain from the recent shoveling injury. These may or may not be actually generating pain, but will distinctly demonstrate age markers that make them impossible to exist from the recent injurious event. Regardless, since they were not symptomatic in the past, they are often illogically attributed to the recent traumatic circumstance, even though this goes against all the physical evidence presented on imaging studies. We have actually seen calcified ruptures, surrounding by years of arthritic evidence, that were nonetheless blamed on events that occurred less than 3 weeks before imaging was done. These are obvious diagnostic blunders that should embarrass any doctor with even a tiny semblance of dignity and morals.
Snow removal is a real problem for people with bad backs and can cause back pain in the strongest and most resilient of people. In order to prevent yourself from falling victim to any snow removal back or neck pain, please enjoy these simple tips for staying safe and healthy when shoveling:
Stretch before beginning work and be sure your muscles are not freezing cold before lifting heavy loads.
Be sure to wear appropriate clothing and footwear to maintain consistent body temperature and ensure solid footing. Slipping on icy conditions when shoveling is one of the major causes of injury.
Never attempt to lift more than your capacity. In fact, it is best to lift far below your limit, just to be safe. Do not continue to work once you are fatigued. This can lead to a variety of injurious scenarios, including muscle strain and spinal trauma.
Invest in an ergonomic snow shovel. Better yet, buy a snow blower and save your back from potential injury year after year.
Consider paying a professional to perform snow removal for you. It is a small investment to preserve your health, especially if you are elderly or have a tendency towards back or neck pain.