Shoveling snow can contribute to a plethora of injuries to the spine (primarily low back), shoulders, and forearms. These issues typically are a result of excessive bending and twisting the body while carrying a heavy load.
Let’s start with the basics. Let’s remember that shoveling is a form of exercise, so just like with any exercise, we want to prepare our bodies for the demands that we are about to place on them.
- Dress appropriately. Make sure that you have the proper footwear to avoid falls.
- Stay hydrated and make sure that you drink plenty of water before, during, and after shoveling.
- Take breaks. Please do not try and finish the task all at once. It is more beneficial to break up the task in segments especially if you are dealing with a large quantity of snow.
- Take your time. Shovel small amounts of snow over a period of time and this will mitigate the amount of strain on your body.
- Warm-up. You are susceptible to injury when your muscles are cold and tight. Loosening up the muscles will help ease your way into any demanding tasks. An easy warm-up would include a brisk walk for 5-10 minutes before shoveling.
Here are some of the tips on how to utilize proper lifting mechanics when shoveling:
- Maintain proper spinal alignment. It is paramount to bend your knees, push your hips back, keep your back flat, and tuck your chin slightly in.
- Make sure you bend your knees and hips to take some of the load off of your back when lifting.
- Proper grip is important. Please don’t keep your hands too close together. Placing your hands further apart improves your leverage, which in turn, will allow you to work more efficiently
- Always keep the object (snow) you are lifting close to your body and do not reach out to throw snow away to another location.
- To prevent from overextending or twisting your back, take the time to walk to the location where you are depositing the load of snow.
Please keep these safety tips in mind during this snowy season to decrease chance of developing any injuries.
Here are a few examples of stretches and exercises to perform after you shovel
*Rule for stretching: Slowly take your muscles to the end of their range. You will feel slight resistance in the muscle, but you should never feel pain during a stretch.
Standing rotations (10 repetitions each side)
Standing Back Extension Stretch (10 repetitions)
Standing hamstring stretch (30 seconds x 3 repetitions)
Wrist extensor/flexor stretch (30 seconds x 3 repetitions for each exercise)
Standing Calf stretches (30 seconds x 3 repetitions for each exercise)
Written by: Dr. Darrell Dila, PT, DPT and Karli Lisk, PTA