Baby, it’s cold outside – and there’s probably a bunch of snow out there too. There’s a good chance you’ll have to shovel at some point this winter, even if you own a snow blower or you pay someone to do it for you.
It’s easy to hurt yourself shoveling between all of the bending and heavy lifting, especially if you haven’t kept your body in shape throughout the year by doing regular aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises, and stretching. If you’re not in shape, make sure you’re extra careful when you shovel.
Every winter, thousands of people visit the hospital for sprains and strains, bumps, bruises, cuts and broken bones sustained while shoveling snow. Most of the injuries are to the lower back and shoulder areas.
1. Warm up your muscles before you start. Shoveling snow is a form of exercise. Stretch your muscles, especially your legs and shoulders. For example stretches, check out this guide. Don’t forget you need to stretch after you’re done shoveling too.
2. Use the right shovel; it can make a very big difference. A small and lightweight shovel reduces the amount you lift each time. Pushing the snow is safer than lifting it. A shovel with a shorter handle can make dumping the snow easier, while a longer handle can be better for pushing it. Depending on the area you have to shovel, it might be a good investment to buy more than one type of shovel.
3. Maintain good body mechanics. Try to push the snow when possible. When you have to lift it, keep the load lighter and make sure your hips and shoulders are squarely facing the shovel. Bend your hips and knees – keep your back straight – and lift using your legs. Don’t toss the snow to the side once you’ve lifted it. Instead, try to dump it or toss it directly in front of you. This will help you avoid twisting your back.
4. Start shoveling early during a snowfall and pace yourself. It’s better to remove small amounts of snow often compared to lifting heavy loads later on. If the snow is deep, remove it in layers. Take a break every 10-15 minutes or when you start feeling overworked or winded. Use a few minutes on your break to stretch your arms, back, and shoulders.
5. Keep your feet on the ground. Wear boots with good traction or add snow cleats to avoid falls. Thrown down salt or sand on any areas that are icy before you shovel them.
Unfortunately, even if you’re careful shoveling, it’s still possible to hurt your back. If you do feel back pain after shoveling, here are some steps you can take to try and ease the pain:
Usually the pain should get better in a couple of days to a few weeks. See your doctor if your pain:
To help your doctor better diagnose your back pain, read this article.
Shoveling light-to-moderate snow for 15 or 20 minutes can be a good form of exercise. But when the snow is heavy or it’s icy outside, it can become a dangerous activity. Prepare your body for it, take your time, and pay attention to your shoveling technique to avoid injury.