Mother nature can bring a significant amount of snow during the winter months, which leaves you with the dreaded task of shoveling. All of the bending and lifting that is involved with shoveling snow puts you at risk of injury. Snow shoveling is associated with a variety of injuries including back pain, shoulder pain, and even heart attacks. Before you head out with your shovel to take on this task, read the 5 tips outlined below to shovel safely and reduce your risk of injury.
It is recommended that you layer with loose clothing so that you can remove layers if you get hot. Choosing appropriate material is also important. Wool, for example, doesn’t allow your sweat to evaporate. Instead, opt for cotton or silk.
Proper footwear, that is waterproof with good traction, can help to keep your feet dry and warm, and also help prevent slips and falls.
Keep in mind that shoveling snow is aerobic exercise; therefore, it’s important to stretch and warm up your muscles before starting. Stretching is especially important when you’re shoveling in very cold temperatures. Stretching can help to prevent injury and fatigue. It’s also important to take frequent breaks and stay hydrated with water while shoveling.
Your shovel should be light, weighing a maximum of 3 lbs. In order to decrease the amount of forward bending that you have to do, the handle of the shovel should be around the height of your chest. Choosing a shovel with a smaller blade will help to decrease your risk of injury because less snow can be lifted. If you’re going to be pushing snow, as opposed to lifting it, consider using a wide blade shovel designed for this purpose. These shovels are designed with the handles around elbow height, this allows for a more upright shoveling position. It’s important to avoid lifting with this type of shovel, instead, use your arms to tilt the blade and allow the snow to slide off.
When there’s heavy snow, try to clear the snow every few inches as opposed to waiting for the storm to end. When snow is fresh it is powdery and light, putting less stress on your body. Shoveling early also helps to prevent snow and ice from sticking to the ground, which makes the task much more difficult.
Whenever possible, push the snow as opposed to lifting it. Pushing snow uses less energy and places less stress on your body compared to lifting it. To push snow properly, start by positioning your feet about hip width apart. Move one foot forward so that it is positioned close to the shovel. Direct your weight onto your front foot and use your legs to help push the snow.
In cases where you have to lift the snow, breathe in, bend your knees, tighten your core, and lift the snow with your legs, not your back. Breathe out as you place the snow down. To minimize the risk of injury, keep the load of snow as close as possible to your body. Also remember not to twist to dump the snow, instead pivot your feet to turn in the direction that you want to place the snow.
Another thing to keep in mind is to pay attention to your surroundings. Watch out for ice under the snow to prevent slips and falls. Also, watch out for traffic when you’re shoveling close to the road because cars are more likely to lose control due to decreased traction in the snow.
Even when following the tips above, injuries can happen, If you injure yourself while shoveling snow, one of the physical therapists at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation can help you recover. They can also show you how to stretch and strengthen your body, and review proper shoveling technique, to help minimize your risk of future injury.