Last week, I had a conversation with a former patient, Catherine, who was expressing concern over the upcoming winter and the toll that shoveling could take on her body.
Catherine has been suffering from back pain off and on for many years, and she was concerned about the possibility of obtaining a back injury from shoveling snow this winter that could lead to further back problems in the future.
With the first snow just around the corner, I thought others may benefit from some of the same tips I shared with Catherine.
First things first, if it is possible, find a shovel with an adjustable handle and lightweight plastic shovel blade, as this will help eliminate extensive bending and back strain.
Shoveling is just like any other exercise, and you should warm up for about five to ten minutes beforehand. You can do this either by doing some light movements, such as bending side to side or walking in place, and make sure to stretch out before shoveling, especially your back muscles and hamstrings.
Push rather than lift. Pushing the snow with the shovel instead of lifting can help reduce the strain on your body.
When lifting snow, make sure you are lifting correctly. Keep your chest forward and your load light, but if you absolutely must lift a heavier load, keep one hand close to the blade while the other one rests on the handle. This will make lifting much easier. But be careful never to lift more than you carry. Don’t forget: Bend at the hips, never the back, and don’t just toss the load; rather, physically carry the snow to its new location.
Take breaks whenever you feel overworked to relax and stretch your muscles. Go slowly, at a speed that is comfortable for you. Also try to spread the shoveling out over a period of days if possible, or at least only shovel a few inches of snow at a time to avoid overexerting yourself.
Maintaining good footing also goes a long way in preventing injuries. Make sure you keep both feet firmly planted on the ground. Footwear with good treads is imperative. Try spreading substances like salt or sand over the cement to increase traction.
If you have already been experiencing back pain from a previous shoveling injury, please don’t hesitate to give my office a call. I would love to talk with you further about how we can help!
Oliver Patalinghug is the trusted health expert and founder of the Metro Detroit's Leading Specialist Private Practice Physical Therapy for people in their 40's, 50's and 60's who want to keep healthy and active.