Avoiding Injuries When Shoveling Snow
As winter approaches there likely will be a need to get out in the elements and shovel snow. While this activity can provide an excellent workout when done properly it can also lead to numerous injuries when not completed with proper snow shoveling techniques. In the physical therapy world, injuries from snow shoveling are quite common and many of these can be prevented.
The process of shoveling snow uses a lot of the same techniques that you would use when lifting a heavy object. The most important part of this movement is that you must use your legs. One of the most common injuries that we see in physical therapy are lower back injuries, which are commonly caused by bending forward at the waist with a rounded back and not using your legs. No matter if the snow is heavy or light, bending forward with your back over and over can result in a lot of injuries ranging from a herniated disc to a muscle strain. It isn’t always the heavy singular lift that injures backs, it can be the light repetitive that does the damage. When using your legs, you should squat down and return from squatting using your legs while keeping your back upright. Make sure your knees are bent, your hips are flexed/bent, and your back is straight!
Next, you want to make sure that you stay in line with your target. That means there should be no lifting with twisting. When you pick up the load of snow, turn your feet and place it where you want it to go. You should be square to the target instead of trying to shovel at an angle and if possible, use the shovel to “plow” the snow in a long straight line, vs having to repeatedly lift the snow.
Third, don’t try and maximize each shovel full of snow. You’ll fatigue faster and you’ll run the risk of injury the heavier the load of snow in the shovel gets. Particularly with wet snow, the weight can be deceiving and you may lift not expecting such a heavy load. When lifting the snow Keep the end of the shovel close to you and don’t let it get too far from you, which would put additional strain on your back.
Finally, make sure you take breaks and stay hydrated. Even in cold weather, you can sweat a lot and get dehydrated. That can cause a host of problems, including cramps or “charley horses,” or muscle strains. Worst case scenario is you end up in a hospital attached to an IV! Shoveling snow has been associated with a large number of heart attacks and strokes. Understanding that snow shoveling is a much more labor-intensive activity than many people do during their everyday lift, and thus requires rests is important. Particularly if you don’t get a lot of physical activity or are out of shape, please take breaks every ten minutes or so.
If you do injure yourself, the physical therapists at CAO are ready to serve you. We have licensed physical therapists who are experts in orthopedic physical therapy. We have three state-of-the-art facilities here in Southern Maryland to get you back on your feet. Please give us a call, it would be a privilege to serve you.
About the Author: Neil Brown PT, LAT, ATC has been practicing physical therapy and athletic training in Southern Maryland for over 20 years. He graduated from the University of Dayton with a BS in exercise science and athletic training and then pursued his MPF at Andrews University. He specializes in outpatient physical therapy and sports related injuries. In his spare time he can be found spending time with his family or at a sporting event.
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