Snow shoveling can often result in soft tissue injuries, pulled muscles, and lower back aches and pains. In addition to injuries caused from the actual activity of shoveling, slipping and falling can also occur when working in the icy and snow-covered conditions of snow shoveling. It must be well understood that snow shoveling is not always an easy endeavor to accomplish, but there are ways to shovel snow in a safer, less hazardous way.
What follows are some tips from the National Safety Council, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and leg, hip and back specialists alike for safe snow shoveling:
- Take it slow! Shoveling (like lifting weights) can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically; so pace yourself. Be sure to stretch out and warm up before taking on the task.
- Lift with your legs bent, not your back. Keep your back straight. By bending and "sitting" into the movement, you'll keep your spine upright and less stressed. Your shoulders, torso and thighs can do the work for you.
- Individuals over the age of 40, or those who are relatively inactive, should be especially careful.
- If you have a history of heart trouble, do not shovel without a doctor's permission.
- Do not shovel after eating or while smoking.
- Shovel only fresh snow. Freshly fallen, powdery snow is easier to shovel than the wet, packed-down variety.
- Push the snow as you shovel. It's easier on your back than lifting the snow out of the way.
- Keep it light. Don't pick up too much at once. Use a small shovel, or fill only one-fourth or one-half of a large one.
- Do not work to the point of exhaustion. If you run out of breath, take a break. If you feel tightness in your chest, stop immediately.
- Dress warmly. Remember that extremities, such as the nose, ears, hands and feet, need extra attention during winter's cold. Wear a turtleneck sweater, cap, scarf, face protection, mittens, wool socks and waterproof boots.
Other snow shoveling tips include:
- Warm up before shoveling with basic stretches of the legs, hips, arms, and back.
- If you are diabetic, ask your doctor about physical activity in cold weather.
- Hire younger, able-bodied individuals to shovel for you if you are currently injured, out of shape, or have physical restrictions.
- Use a snow blowing machine.
- If there is a small amount of snow, especially in light powdery form, try using a broom to push the snow to the side to avoid any lifting or stress on the knees, legs, and lower back.
- Avoid twisting you back while lifting or pushing snow out of the way.
References and addition resources:
National Safety Council
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Healthmark Foot and Ankle Associates
Photo credit: Filip Mroz