Tips for Shoveling Snow Safely

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy focuses on relieving pain, restoring movement, function and strength. Physical therapy also educates people on ergonomic fitness and wellness issues.

Being a licensed physical therapist I look at this time of year where the incidence of back pain tends to increase because of issues related to slip and falls. It may also be due to everyone’s not so favorite thing. .. SHOVELING SNOW. According to the Surgeon General’s Report, 15 minutes of shoveling counts as moderate activity, making it good exercise for most people.  However, MOST shoveling is done incorrectly and can put increased stress on your heart and back.

Some physical therapy exercises before and during a snowstorm:

  • It is recommended to spend 5-10 minutes in this warm-up.
    The purpose is to get the blood flowing to your muscles to help reduce pulling a muscle.  Here is an example of a flexibility warm-up:
    – Neck rolls                  – Trunk rotations
    – Arm circles                – Body weight squats
    – Hamstring Stretches (place foot on step or chair and reach toward toe with back straight)

or when shoveling, just remember doing more to go faster isn’t necessarily better.  My recommendation is to find an ergonomically correct shovel with a curved handle.  The jumbo sized shovels that lift twice as much, just increase the stresses onto your back, and these types of shovels should be avoided.

The use of proper body mechanics along with proper equipment will help reduce the forces on the back and decrease the likelihood of injury.  The most common mistake is bending over with your back rounded and tossing snow across the body.  Here are a few tips for protecting yourself when you shovel snow:

  • Make sure you have warmed up before hand with some stretching to get the blood pumping
  • If you have a history of heart trouble, do not shovel without a doctor’s permission.
  • It is easier to push snow than to lift it, therefore, push the snow as you shovel. It’s easier on your back than lifting the snow out of the way. Should you have to throw snow, do so in front of your body- avoid throwing snow over your shoulder.
  • Lift with your legs bent, not your back. Keep your back straight. By bending your knees and “sitting” into the movement, you’ll keep your spine upright and less stressed. Let your shoulders, torso and thighs can do the work for you.

And lastly: Use proper breathing techniques: inhale when you pick up the snow and exhale when you unload it. Never hold your breathe while shoveling.

Even if you follow these tips and exercises you may still experience some discomfort after shoveling. I would urge you to speak to your local physical therapist to discuss any questions and concerns. We will monitor your accomplishments and make adjustments appropriately.

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