How To Keep Yourself Safe While Shoveling This Winter
This article about safe shoveling practices was written by Dave Carleton at Joint Ventures
It’s that time of year again! It is now officially winter, according to the calendar. While we have had a few small snow storms so far, much larger ones are likely coming our way sooner rather than later. It doesn’t matter if you love the snow and ice or hate it intensely. You’ll need to deal with it at some point.
While this may not be as true for those living in the south or on the California coast, much of the United States deals with snowy weather for at least a third of the year.
If recent years are any indication, there are likely more than a few storms on the way. Each of these will bring significant amounts of snow with them. No one knows just how much snow to expect in a given season. However, it’s probably safe to say that there will be a need for some serious snow shoveling soon – if not already!
As we all know, snow quickly piles and can be quite heavy – even in small amounts. Shoveling snow involves repeatedly bending over, lifting, carrying, and tossing a substance. This puts some atypical strain on your body, especially your back. However, this does not necessarily need to be the case. Shoveling is only one of the considerations when thinking of winter activity injury prevention, but it’s one of the biggest.
By following a few of the simple shoveling tips outlined below, you can significantly reduce the amount of stress on your back. You also decrease the potential for possible injury while keeping your driveway, walkway, and sidewalk clear of snow and ice.
Shoveling safety step 1: Warming up is necessary.
It can be helpful to consider performing 5-10 minutes of light exercise indoors before even thinking of heading outside. This will help prepare your body by warming up your muscles and priming your cardiovascular system for the upcoming physical demands associated with shoveling. This warm-up can include just about anything but should involve some stretching of the upper and lower body. You may think about walking up and down the stairs a few times or marching in place. People may also incorporate other exercises like hip hinges, squats, and lunges – just to name a few. Regardless of your exercise choices, the most important thing is to not go out into the cold, “cold.”. This isn’t just helpful for shoveling, either. Other winter sports and activities rely on at least a short warm-up, too.
Shoveling safety step 2: Dress properly for the weather.
Wear breathable layers that include a proper coat, a hat, and gloves. Wearing adequate footwear can also give you increased traction on slippery, uneven terrain, which is important when establishing a solid base of support with the ground as you move over it to shovel. It’s easy to slip and fall in the wrong pair of boots – be aware of your surroundings.
Shoveling safety step 3: Use proper body mechanics throughout.
Remembering a few things about proper body mechanics can go a long way towards minimizing injury risk while shoveling snow.
- It is easier to push the snow vs. lifting it.
- If you have to lift while shoveling snow, there is less strain in lifting smaller amounts with each step rather than lifting full shovel loads.
- Keep one hand near the top of the shovel’s handle and the other hand closer to the blade of the shovel to improve your leverage. Holding the weighted load of the shovel closer to your body will also improve your leverage.
- Engage and brace your abdominal muscles gently, just like you would do if you were bracing for a punch to the stomach or trying to put on a belt. This will improve the stability of your spine.
- Keep your back straight and avoid bending at the waist. Instead, bend at your hips and knees to utilize the stronger and more powerful muscles of your legs to bend and to lift the snow. Back pain and shoulder pain are no fun.
- Try to carry the snow to its final location rather than throwing it there. If you need to throw it or toss it, try to minimize your repetitive twisting motions. These twisting motions (especially with your back in a flexed position), can put a lot of excess strain on your muscles and will likely lead to increased soreness or even injury. This is also a common cause of knee injuries. When the body twists unnaturally, stress is placed on different areas. Minimize this whenever possible.
Shoveling safety step 4: Keep pace with the snow
It is no secret that shoveling less snow is easier than shoveling more snow. It is less physically demanding to shovel a few inches of snow more frequently than a foot or more of snow all at once. If your area is forecast to get a great deal of snow during a storm, it is a good idea to shovel often so that each round of shoveling is easier to manage. This is especially helpful if it is wetter and heavier snow because removing this all at once can be very strenuous.
Shoveling safety step 5: Take frequent rest breaks.
Snow shoveling is a physical activity that doesn’t just stress your musculoskeletal system. It also taxes your cardiovascular system at the same time. Taking breaks as needed will help to minimize fatigue. This occurs during prolonged snow shoveling due to the repetitive movements it involves. When you are fatigued, injuries are more likely to occur.
If you experience any pain, shortness of breath that does not improve with rest, or chest pain, stop immediately and seek medical care.
Shoveling safety step 6: Stay hydrated.
Even though it’s cold out, you most likely will be sweating from all the physical demands of shoveling. For this reason, it is important to be sure to periodically drink fluids while clearing the snow. These hydration breaks are also a great opportunity to catch your breath, which is mentioned above.
Care For Yourself After Safe Shoveling With Physical Therapy
Winter won’t last forever. However, without proper care and treatment, the injuries people sustain during this time can.
If you sustain a winter sports injury, be sure to let it heal properly before trying to participate again. No, shoveling isn’t technically a sport – but in some places, it could be. As winter is full of activity (even though most of it is done indoors), being prepared is essential. Consider all of your actions when you practice injury prevention strategies. It’s about more than being mindful when you’re skiing or sledding. You need to think about the way your back pain, knee pain, or shoulder pain increases during travel, shopping, or spending time with your loved ones.
For those that are concerned with their recovery after sustaining even a mild injury while shoveling snow, utilize the BetterPT physical therapy clinic locator to find a nearby physical therapy provider like those at Joint Ventures. Or, simply download the BetterPT app. Consider using the BetterTelehealth platform for virtual therapy sessions. No matter what you choose, you’ll find a physical therapy professional waiting to help you.
These options – and medical professionals they connect patients with – can truly help people to recover from injuries. They also provide helpful advice about future health and wellness.
David Carleton is a licensed physical therapist with Joint Ventures PT. After earning both his Bachelor’s and Masters of Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac University, Carleton chose to remain on the East coast while practicing. He is recognized as an orthopedic clinical specialist and certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Carleton’s field-specific interests include manual therapy, sports medicine, and functional exercise. He also focuses on shoulder, hip and knee injuries, and injury prevention.