TMJ and Snow Shoveling

Snow doesn’t just mean poor road conditions, delays at the airport, and surprise days when the kids are home, it means you have to get out there and clear it. And for many of us, shoveling snow is a different type of activity than we’re used to.

In fact, shoveling snow is a very strenuous activity. In a lab study, people shoveling snow reached 97% of maximal heart rate. With this strenuous level of activity, it’s no wonder that so many people get injured while shoveling snow, suffering heart attack or back injury. 

But shoveling snow can be bad for more than just your heart and back. Shoveling snow can aggravate another significant health condition, temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD).  If shoveling snow triggers jaw pain, headaches, and other TMJ-related symptoms, the problem might be related to TMJ.

Thousands of Snow-Shoveling Emergency Injuries a Year

Snow shoveling is not just strenuous, it’s dangerous. In fact, according to a study, snow shoveling leads to an average of more than 11,000 visits to the emergency department each year. 

About two-thirds of those injured were males. The age of injury victims was spread out, with children under 18 accounting for about 15% of injuries, while those aged 55 years and older accounted for 21.8%.

The types of injuries that sent people to the emergency room included:

  • Soft tissue injury (55%)
  • Laceration (16%)
  • Fracture (6.6%)
  • Other (23%)

Soft tissue injuries were mostly lower back injuries, which accounted for about a third of all injuries. Acute exertion accounted for about 54% of all injuries, followed by slip and fall (20%) and being hit by a snow shovel (15%). Kids were about 15 times as likely to get hit by a snow shovel than adults. 

Although heart attack only accounted for 6.7% of total injuries, it accounted for 100% of fatal injuries. 

Smart Shoveling

The first thing you should do if you are experiencing soreness and pain from shoveling snow is to make sure you are using a good technique. Bad form can lead to additional exertion and increase your risk of injury.

  • Stretch appropriately before starting to shovel snow. Remember, this is very vigorous exercise, and it’s just as important to stretch first as with any other type of exertion. 
  • Make sure the shovel length is appropriate for your height. If you’re bending down too much when shoveling, it puts your back at a disadvantage for doing the work.
  • If you’re straining to lift the snow, your shovel is too full. Remember, if the snow is denser, you should pick up less of it with each shovel.
  • Lift with your knees, not your back, and use your abs to help stabilize your core and facilitate lifting.
  • Twisting and bending are hard on your back–try to limit them.
  • Rather than throwing the snow, walk it to where you want to pile it. If you have to throw snow, step in the direction of the throw.
  • Take frequent breaks, even if you don’t think you’re tired. On breaks, flex your back backward to balance the amount of forward bending you’re doing.
  • Accept that shoveling snow might be too much work for you. If so, consider either getting a snowblower or hiring someone to shovel your snow. 
  • If your children shovel the snow, make sure they know to be careful and not roughhouse. Roughhousing is a common cause of snow-shoveling injuries for children.

If you try these techniques, but you’re still suffering back pain and related problems, you should talk to your doctor and consider the possibility that TMJ might be to blame.

Is It TMJ?

It can be hard to believe that your jaw is actually important to the work of shoveling snow–after all, you’re not moving the snow with your mouth, right? 

The truth is that your jaw helps stabilize your head, neck, and spine. When you exert yourself, jaw clamping often occurs as part of the process. If your jaw isn’t properly aligned, this clamping down can be painful to jaw muscles and potentially damaging to teeth. And it can lead to headaches when your jaw muscles pass on their stress to partner muscles in the head. And because your body may be less efficient, your back muscles may be working harder than they should be, resulting in excess back pain.

Watch for common TMJ symptoms that might flare up during or after shoveling snow. This includes:

  • Jaw pain
  • Headaches
  • Chipped or cracked teeth
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Tingling or numbness in fingers
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain

If you experience several of these symptoms, you should suspect TMJ. 

Help for TMJ Symptoms in Blue Bell

If you think TMJ might be affecting you when you are shoveling snow or at any other time, TMJ dentist Dr. Ken Siegel can help. 

Stabilizing your jaw joint can help with many other tasks that rely on strength and balance, not just shoveling snow. To learn whether TMJ treatment can help you, please call (610) 272-0828 for an appointment with a Philadelphia TMJ dentist at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell today.