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With the snowy and cold weather lately, this is a great time to talk about being safe when shoveling snow. This blog will focus on a couple tips to help avoid any back injuries or serious medical emergencies when attempting to shovel snow.

Warm Up Muscles with Light Exercises: Just like when you’re attempting to workout,  it’s always important to try to get a nice warm up in with some light exercises before you attempt to go out and shovel snow. While some people may laugh at the idea of  warming up before going out to shovel snow, it is really important to remember that shoveling snow is a workout for our bodies. Just like any other workout, it is critical to warm yourself up which will help decrease your risk of a soft tissue injury. 

Pace Yourself:  As one would do when attempting to work out, it is important to pace yourself when you’re shoveling snow.  Remember when shoveling snow, your body is already expending a lot of energy to keep itself warm in a cool environment.  Pacing yourself will allow your body the proper rest in between lifting each pile and avoid stressing your cardiac system and muscles too much at one time.

Use Proper Equipment:  How often have we heard the phrase work smarter not harder? The same applies when deciding which shovel to utilize when you’re shoveling snow. Using an ergonomic shovel will allow your body to have  better leverage present when you’re attempting to lift heavy piles of snow.  In addition it can also make pushing snow piles a lot easier.  Thankfully, over the past couple years we’ve seen advancements in the equipment designed to shovel snow.  As someone gets older, it’s important to remember that spending a little bit extra money on an ergonomically safe shovel can go a long way in preventing back injuries and other injuries that may occur when lifting snow.

Use Proper lifting Mechanics: The most important tip to remember when shoveling snow is that utilizing your legs and bending at your legs will make it a lot easier on your body.  Oftentimes low back injuries happen because people will use their back and their upper body to lift snow.  Remember that your legs make up 50% of your body and the strongest muscles in your body are located in your legs.  Utilizing proper form, lifting with your legs, and bending your knees instead of your back will allow a person to be a lot safer when shoveling snow.  Another important thing to remember is that it can be a lot easier to push snow as well instead of lifting.  When possible, pushing snow piles can be utilized to avoid having to stress any part of your back when attempting to shovel snow.

Remove Small Amounts and Don’t Twist:  A lot of low back injuries happen when people attempt to lift too much snow at one time.  It is important to pace yourself and lift smaller amounts of snow at one time to avoid too much load placed on the low back.  Some people will also attempt to throw snow over their shoulder when shoveling. Avoid this position because it can cause a lot of twisting and torquing movements on your low back.  The majority of low back injuries that happen while shoveling snow happen because a person is twisting and lifting at the same time. 

While no one enjoys ever getting injured while shoveling snow, you can reach out to your local Advanced Training and Rehab to be seen after a low back injury occurs.  We all strive to stay safe while shoveling snow but unfortunately accidents can happen.  Something to remember is that when low back pain occurs the quicker treatment is initiated, the better the long-term results. As temperatures continue to drop, remember to stay safe out there! 

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Author: John Cichon, PT DPT at ATR Kirkwood.

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