Keep Your Body Safe While Shoveling Snow

Snow creates a beautiful and peaceful landscape in the winter. But removing it from your walkways and driveways can be a real pain in the neck—or back—if you don’t do it carefully. So, before the next snowstorm, take a moment to learn how to shovel safely and use your snowblower properly to prevent unnecessary injuries.

Choose the Right Shovel

For starters, it’s important to choose the right shovel. A straight-handled shovel may be cheaper, but it’s also harder on your back.

  • Choose an ergonomic shovel with a curved, bent, or S-shaped handle that will push the snow more effectively with less bending and twisting movements. A sharp bend in the shaft is best. Make sure it has a cushioned grip.
  • Choose a long shaft that matches the user’s height and arm length. When the shovel blade is on the ground, the appropriate handle length would be up to the user’s elbow or chest.
  • Choose a lightweight shovel (3 – 4 lbs.) that will require less energy and force to use.
  • Choose the right shovel for the weight of the snow. Modern shovels come with a range of blade features (the scooping or chiseling part) to lessen strain and injury.

If your snow is

  • Light and fluffy … choose an aluminum shovel.
  • Heavy and slushy … a polycarbonate and shatter-resistant shovel is the best choice.
  • Icy and compressed … use galvanized steel to chip away with lower impact.

Before You Head Outside

Stretch first

Snow shoveling is a cardiovascular and weight-lifting exercise. So, simple stretching exercises that focus on the back and the hamstrings can help loosen muscles, improve blood flow, and prepare your spine for a vigorous workout. Warming up before you go out can also protect vital organs, like the heart, during the strenuous act of shoveling snow. Here are a few stretches to try:

Lumbar Extension

This stretch helps you balance in any forward-bending movement while shoveling. Choose a standing or laying position.

  • Extension 1: Stand and bend back as far as is comfortable and hold for three to five seconds. Do 10-15 repetitions.
  • Extension 2: Lie on your stomach and bend back as far as is comfortable and hold for three to five seconds. Do 10-15 repetitions.

Quadriceps Stretch

While standing, use your right arm to pull your right leg up toward your buttocks. Keep your trunk straight and use your opposite arm to hold onto a sturdy object to maintain balance. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds, doing five reps on each leg. This will stretch out the quad muscles that you’ll be using to lift while shoveling.

Hip Flexor Stretch

In a half-kneeling position while maintaining an upright trunk, lunge forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Hold position for 20 seconds doing five reps on each leg. This will help to stretch the muscles you’ll be using while moving snow and helps to keep your spine in a neutral position.

Dress Warmly

Lower temperatures constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the muscles at work during shoveling. Wear layers of clothing that are insulating, warm, loose, and water-repellent. Shoes or boots with good treads will help minimize the chance of an injury from slipping.

Drink Water

Dehydration impairs the body’s ability to regulate heat, making the underlying tissues cold and numb. As a general rule, it’s wise to adequately hydrate by drinking water (no alcohol!) before shoveling snow and sipping fluids while taking breaks from shoveling.

Watch the Weather

If you’re going to get a lot of snow over a period of several hours, plan to shovel

Use the Proper Technique

  • Keep the back straight at all times. Lead with the hips, not the lower back, and push your chest out, pointing forward. Then, bend the knees and lift with the leg muscles, keeping the back straight at all times. Keep the feet hip-width apart for improved control.
  • Use appropriate hand placement. Position one hand on the handle and the other about 12 inches lower on the shaft. This allows the back to remain straight and stabilized.
  • Don’t twist! Pivot your entire body along the direction of the foot when you dump the snow. If dumping snow to the left, keep the left foot facing outward (to the left) while shoveling, and dump the snow by pivoting the entire body in the direction of the foot. Avoid twisting the spine alone.
  • Avoid excessive arm movement. While dumping snow, maintain minimal arm movement by keeping the shovel’s load close to the body. Doing so helps reduce exertion on the back, shoulder, and arms.
  • Prevent falls: Spread sand, rock salt, or kitty litter on the sidewalk or driveway to increase traction and reduce the likelihood of slipping on ice.
  • Don’t overexert yourself: Especially when the snow is wet and heavy, take a break every 10 to 15 minutes. Use this opportunity to drink water and stretch the arms, shoulders, and back to keep them warm and flexible.

Keeping these guidelines in mind during the winter season will lessen the chances of developing new back problems or worsening any existing lower back pain while shoveling snow.

If you feel any nagging aches and pains or you’ve suffered an injury during your winter cleanup, give us a call and we’ll do our best to get you back up and running in no time!

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