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Tips for injury-free sandbagging

Experts say it's important to know your limits

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How to safely sandbag

Are you healthy enough to sandbag?

Flood reception centre poised to open

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Friday, April 8, 2011

Are you thinking about answering the city’s call for volunteer sandbaggers?

If so, you may want to take steps to ensure you don’t injure yourself while doing your civic duty.

Fortunately, Winnipeg Health Region experts say it is easy to stay injury-free while sandbagging, as long as you follow some basic rules.

The important thing is to treat sandbagging as an athletic activity and be mindful of your body’s limits, says Stan Szumlak, an athletic therapist and orthopedic technologist with the Pan Am Clinic. That means you should warm up properly before getting to work.

To warm up, Szumlak recommends mimicking the activities your body will be doing while sandbagging. “Prepare as well as you can – don’t just wish yourself well – with a proper warm up. Practice imaginary lifts with no weight,” he says. “Prepare the muscles you’re going to be using.”

Gentle backward and forward bends, bending at your knees and getting your arms and shoulders ready with big lazy arm circles, shoulder circles and wrist circles will prepare the joints and tissues for stress.  You’ll also want to do waist circles (as if you were using a hula hoop) and even knee circles to help get your body ready for the activity.

Doing these same activities before sandbagging, after you’re done and the morning after sandbagging will help your body recover from the additional strain and activity.

Preparing also means making sure your body is adequately fuelled and hydrated. Athletes typically eat a meal two hours before their event. They stay hydrated and grab snacks before and during the event.  “Continuously fuel your body,” says Szumlak. “Take breaks to refuel as well as hydrate.”

What are you wearing? Szumlak suggests dressing in layers like cross country ski wear – moisture wicking garments that provide coverage to your arms and legs. Make sure your shoes are firm and provide the appropriate support.

And be mindful of removing layers as the mercury rises. “People start peeling off clothes when it’s sunny and the skin hasn’t been exposed to sun in a while,” says Szumlak.

If rain is in the forecast, you’ll also need rainproof gear and footwear to protect you while you sandbag.

Pay attention to your body

Sandbagging can be a stressful activity. You may feel pressured to move quicker than you are able to or than is safe to do for your age or activity level. "Remember to breathe. It’s not a race. Listen to your body. We all mean well but you don’t want to suffer as a result,” says Szumlak.

You may feel stressed or pressured to do more than it is safe for you to do because you want to help out. This can put your health at risk. Be mindful of what you can and can’t reasonably do while you’re doing the activity. It may be hard, but do just what you can and no more.

The flip side of paying attention to your body and its limits means respecting the speed other sandbaggers can move at. Encourage those you're working with to be in tune and realistic about their sandbagging abilities.

After you’re done

Taking a few minutes to run through your warm up routine to cool down can help keep your body limber post-sandbagging. Stretches and mobility exercises will help your body come down after vigorous activity.

Remember to cool down and move your body the next morning to avoid a stiff, sore back and aching muscles.

If you happen to have an injury after sandbagging, health experts suggest you go to Urgent Care, see your family doctor or visit a walk-in clinic.

Related links
Urgent Care
City of Winnipeg

How to safely sandbag

Szumlak urges you to not toss that sandbag. If you do, you’re stretching the muscles incorrectly. That causes the muscles to be at greater risk for straining, tearing and soreness.

There are a few key tips to safely handle a sandbag so the job gets done but your body doesn’t suffer. Keep these tips in mind:

  1. Bend your legs at the knees with your feet apart.
  2. Lower your hips.
  3. Grip the bag with your arms bent.
  4. Keep the weight of the sandbag close to your body when lifting.
  5. Move the weight of the bag by moving your feet in small steps.
  6. Lower the weight to the stack or pass it to a partner – still keeping the weight of the bag as close as possible.
  7. Do not toss the bag. Bend your knees and place it.
  8. Listen to your body and respect your limits. Don’t go faster than you think you should go.

Are you healthy enough to sandbag?

“If you’re not used to doing endeavours for 20 minutes, don’t expect to sandbag for four or five hours. If you are used to being active for 20 minutes regularly, it’s still important for you to be cautious because sandbagging isn’t a regular activity that you’re used to. Everyone trains for a marathon but no one trains for sandbagging,” says Szumlak.

There may be other ways you can help or support people who are at risk of flooding instead of sandbagging. In fact, for certain people, sandbagging is not advisable. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Not sure if you should sandbag? Ask your doctor or primary caregiver. They’ll know your limits.
  2. If you have protective devices – such as a knee or wrist brace, or a weight training belt – wear them to help prevent injuries.

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