8 Tips to Prevent an Injury While Shoveling Snow
Does Shoveling Snow and Ice Present the Risk of a Winter Activity Injury?
There’s no way to avoid cooler temperatures and changing weather. For many, ice and snow along with freezing temperatures are normal. You need to remove this frozen blanket from areas like the driveway, sidewalk, porch and walkway. Not only is it a safety hazard to leave it, the longer it goes untreated, the more dangerous it becomes.
When people think of winter activity injury potential, they often think of sports like skiing or snowboarding. They also might include winter car accidents or even injuries around the home. But ice and snow removal can be dangerous, too. This is especially true for those that don’t take the proper precautions when going outdoors to deal with it and participate in winter activities.
11,000 people seek medical treatment each year after this type of winter activity injury.
If you don’t want to be one of them, then it is important to be smart and know your body before venturing out in the snow to shovel. You may not be able to incorporate each of these shoveling tips every time you’re outside, but in this case, more is better.
Here are 8 tips for you to think about this winter before shoveling your snow.
1. Be Proactive: If you know a snowstorm is coming, consider salting your driveway and walkway before it starts snowing. This not only makes it easier to shovel, but may also prevent unnecessary slips and falls. Slipping and falling commonly leads to back pain, neck pain, and even knee pain. Don’t let this happen to you.
2. Do the Proper Warm-Up: Treat shoveling snow just like a sport (even though it is not as much fun). You should warm up your muscles with a 5 min brisk walk around your house. Then stretch (hamstrings, quads, calfs, arms, and shoulders) and perform 1–2 sets of planks to activate your core muscles. This helps prepare your muscles for the rigorous winter activity ahead.
3. Start Early and Perform in intervals: It is easier to shovel fresh-fallen snow than snow that has been sitting overnight. To make it easier for yourself, clear a few inches of snow throughout the day instead of waiting until the snowfall has stopped.
4. Choose an Ergonomic Shovel: Ergonomically correct shovels are typically made of plastic-type material making them much lighter than regular shovels and they have contoured handles to reduce bending and decrease lifting. Here is a good example of an ergonomically designed shovel:
5. Use Proper Body Mechanics: It is very important to bend from your hips and knees instead of your back when bending over to shovel the snow. Think about the perfect squat (feet width apart, bending at your knees, core engaged), and then try to emulate that position. If you ski, think about the position you’re in when picking up speed as you go down the slopes. Your quads should become sore from shoveling, not your back. In addition, try to push the snow with the shovel instead of picking it up keeping your arms as close to your body as possible. Find where you want the snow to go and push it with the shovel in a straight line. DO NOT pick up the snow and rotate your back to throw it. This is the most common way to “throw out your back”.
6. Activate your core: The entire time you are shoveling, you should be “bracing” your back. This can be done by engaging your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button in towards your spine as if you were “walking into a really cold pool of water”. By activating your core muscles, you will be creating a natural back brace while shoveling which in turn will help protect your back.
7. Know your Limits: You may not be as young and strong as you once were, so please know your limits. Shovel small amounts of snow at a time, take frequent rest breaks and ask for help when needed. If you start experiencing chest discomfort, shortness of breath or left-sided arm pain stop immediately and seek medical attention, as those are signs of a heart attack.
8. Be Smart and Get PT Now: If you have a history of back pain, elbow pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, or knee pain — find a physical therapist now to teach you the correct exercises to perform before you start shoveling snow.
The biggest predictor of future injury is a past history of injury.
Where to Find Physical Therapy for Winter Sports Injuries
If you’re already injured or simply want to prevent yourself from becoming injured, seek out care from a physical therapist. It may seem unnecessary, but preventative action is better than no action. You may be surprised to find out just how many cold weather injury exercises there are. Some of them can be integrated into your daily routine to avoid back pain and discomfort. Others need to be practiced even when you’re spending down-time with loved ones. The holidays – and all cold weather months – are typically very busy for everyone. Don’t let your life and plans get in the way of taking proper care of yourself. Health and fitness are important no matter what time of year it is.
This is where a physical therapist comes into play.
You can get physical therapy now without a doctor’s prescription and start right away. This is called direct access and is available in all 50 states. Use the BetterPT clinic location tool or download the BetterPT app to search and find trusted clinics in your area and to book an appointment now. Looking for a different option for treatment? Consider using Telehealth services through BetterTelehealth. This puts you in contact with your chosen therapist – but doesn’t require you to leave your home for treatment.
If you would like to know more, here are some tips from the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety regarding shoveling and shoveling techniques.
Stay warm this winter and always protect yourself from back pain and discomfort!