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Tips for Safely Shoveling Snow

Snow shoveling can contribute to a host of injuries to the spine, shoulders, and muscles of the body. Most of the problems are a result of excessive bending and twisting while carrying a heavy load. Here are some tips to avoid pain and injury from shoveling snow.

The Basics

Think of snow shoveling as a form of exercise, so as with any exercise, prepare your body for what you are about to do.

  • Don’t begin shoveling snow after eating, smoking, or consuming caffeinated beverages.

  • Warm-up your body with some gentle movements and stretches as you would before any exercise for 5-10 minutes.
  • Dress appropriately. Ensure that you have good footwear to avoid unnecessary slips and falls, dress in layers, wear gloves that will keep the hands warm and dry, and wear a hat the will keep your head dry.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after.

  • Stop if you are hurting or you feel pain of any kind. Don’t make a problem worse by trying to work through the pain. The exception is the feeling of muscle fatigue, which is to be expected.

  • Take plenty of breaks. Don’t try to finish the job all at once. It’s better to divide the work into several segments, especially if you are dealing with large amounts of snow.

  • Know heart attack warning signs: chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness. Please call for help immediately if you are experiencing these symptoms.

The Form

Proper body mechanics are critical to avoiding pain and injury from snow shoveling.

  • Use the right shovel. Ergonomic shovels that have a curved shaft allow for better leverage and are easier on the body. Plastic shovels are typically lighter than metal ones.

  • Proper grip is important. Don’t keep your hands too close together. Placing your hands further apart improves the leverage, which will allow you to work more efficiently.

  • Maintain proper spine alignment. It is critical that you keep your back straight and your head in line with your spine. Your ear, shoulder, and hip should always stay in line. To attain proper spinal alignment while bending, you should bend your knees, stick your hips back, keep your back straight, and tuck your chin slightly in.

  • To shovel snow... keep feet apart, bend the knees, and lift the shovel by straightening your knees and bringing your hips forward as you rise... not by straightening your back. If you need to move the snow, walk your feet to where you would like to dump the snow. Never bend at the waist and twist to move the snow to the side. Never throw snow over your shoulder.

  • Push whenever you can. Pushing the shovel with one leg in front of the other, knees slightly bent and back straight, is always better than lifting the snow.

  • Lighten the load. Don’t try to move heavy amounts of snow. It is better to minimize the load.

Remember to take frequent breaks and stop if you feel pain.

If by chance you do end up injuring yourself, consult a physical therapist for a consultation so that your pain and functional limitations are kept to a minimum.

Check out Dr. Tamer Issa's book, Freedom From Neck & Back Pain- Learn to Live an Active Life Without Fear of Pain