How to Shovel Snow (Without a Trip to the Hospital)

Winter has arrived fast and furious this year.  With two snowstorms in less than two days, many of us have had to get those shovels out a little earlier than last year.  You may or may not be aware that shoveling snow is one of the most common causes of back injuries during the winter months. In fact, according to U.S. Consumer Products Safety, in a single year, more than 118,000 people sought medical treatment for injuries that occurred while they were shoveling snow.

So, for the next time you venture out to clear your sidewalks and driveways, here are some tips on protecting your back and avoiding injury this winter:

  • Choose the right snow shovel. Choose a shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length.  A short handle will cause you to bend more to lift the load, thus increasing back strain.  Using a shovel that’s too long makes the weight at the end heavier.
  • Warm up before shoveling.  Tight muscles are more prone to injury than warmed up, flexible muscles. Marching in place gets your blood circulating. Use gentle stretching exercises to stretch your low back, arms, and hamstrings (muscle in back of the thigh).
  • Dress properly.  Cold temperatures raise blood pressure. Wearing a hat and gloves will help the entire body stay warm and healthy. Remember also to wear boots for traction.
  • Shovel early and pace yourself. Fresh fallen snow is easier to deal with than when the snow is wet and packed down.  Also, shoveling small amounts of snow frequently is less strenuous than shoveling a large pile at once.  Filling only one-fourth or one-half of a large snow shovel is best.
  • Maintain good posture and body mechanics.  Keep your back straight and bend with your legs. Hold the shovel as close to your upper body as possible. Don’t twist by stepping in the direction in which you are throwing the snow.  If possible, push the snow away instead of lifting it.
  • Take frequent breaks. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back. Ideally, take a break after shoveling for 15-20 minutes or before that time if you are feeling fatigued or out of breath.
  • Keep hydrated. Some experts estimate that shoveling snow requires the same exertion as running 10 miles an hour. REALLY.
  • Treat back strains appropriately. Apply a cold pack immediately after injury for several times a day and for no more than 15 minutes at a time. After two or three days, apply heat to relax your muscles and increase blood flow.  Call your doctor if pain persists.
  • Hire the young teen down the block with the snowplow to do the work! Just kidding… sort of.

Best of luck and stay safe (and warm) during our mini blizzard!

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