Its that time of year again. As we delve further and further into the winter season we find ourselves sitting, waiting for that news alert that leaves our eyes glued to the weather channel, grocery stores filled with shoppers, and children restless with excitement. Thats right, you guessed it, SNOW! As the flakes start falling so increases the likelihood of having to break out the shovels and get to work digging yourself to freedom. Before you think about rushing out for your milk, eggs, and bread, here are some things to keep in mind when shoveling snow.
As with every physically exhausting task, safety is always key to avoiding injury, and shoveling snow is no exception! In fact, according to the U.S. Product Safety Commission in 2015 over 158,000 people were treated for injuries sustained while shoveling snow. Many of these injuries can be avoided by changing our approach to this pain-staking task. Here are some tips below to keep your body pain-free this winter season!
1. Choose the Right Equipment- One of the first big pieces of the puzzle when it comes to safety when shoveling snow is… you guessed it, the shovel. Choosing the right shovel can help to put your body at a better advantage to lift and reduce the amount of overall energy needed to complete the task. Some things to think about when choosing a shovel include:
- Choose an ergonomic handle. A shovel with a shorter handle can make throwing heavy snow easier, while a long handle can be better for pushing snow.
- Choose a shovel with a comfortable handle. Much of your force while moving the snow will be going through the handle of the shovel. Padding on the handle can help to reduce discomfort in your hand and wrist while shoveling.
- Choose a shovel made of the right material. A shovel made of heavy material may be more durable, however a lighter shovel (usually plastic) can reduce the load that your body has to endure with repetitive lifting.
2. Choose the right attire- As with any outdoor task, what you wear can make or break your overall experience. Performing physically challenging tasks in below freezing weather can make for quite the challenge when it comes to choosing appropriate clothing. Some tips for safe shoveling attire include:
- Wearing multiple layers of light clothing can allow for a good balance between maintaining warmth and proper ventilation to allow for breathability.
- Wear a water resistant layer of clothing. Doing so can help to keep you dry and comfortable.
- Wear the right pair of gloves. It is important to wear a pair of gloves that will provide your hands warmth, while also allowing you to grip your shovel properly for safety.
- Don’t forget the footwear! Wearing the right shoes can be crucial. Your best option is typically a pair of snow boots that provide both warmth and traction. Since proper lifting technique is done through your legs, traction on slippery surfaces is key to avoiding injury!
3. Choose the right lifting technique- Possibly the most important aspect of avoiding injury while shoveling snow is using proper lifting mechanics. This means positioning the shovel, your body, and the snow that you are moving all in the proper place to avoid excessive stress on your muscles and joints. Use these tips to make sure that you are using proper lifting technique:
- Squat with your legs shoulder width apart, bending at your knees and avoid bending forward with your back.
- Position one hand on the grip of the shovel and one hand on the shaft. The closer your hand is to the bottom of the shovel, the better advantage your body will have to lift the weight.
- When lifting from a squatted position, push through your legs while maintaining a straight back.
- Keep your arms closer to your body, the further out you hold the shovel, the heavier the weight will feel on your shoulders and spine.
- Do not throw snow over your shoulder or twist to throw to the side. These motions can put more stress on your spine and lead to injury.
4. Choose your strategy wisely- As with any project, a vital component to success is proper planning. Having the right plan prior to beginning to shovel can mean the difference between safety and injury. Here are some tips to help prepare appropriately to avoid harm:
- If you are expecting significant snowfall, shovel early. Begin your shoveling early while the snow is still light. As the snow accumulates, so does the weight that you will be lifting which raises your risk of injury.
- Warm up your muscles prior to shoveling. Stretching and light aerobic warmup can help to prepare your body for vigorous activity.
- Pace yourself and stay hydrated. Because shoveling is an aerobic activity, take frequent breaks and drink water to avoid injury due to over exhaustion.
With February quickly approaching (frequently the snowiest month in the northeast) make sure to keep these tips in mind if you are going to be digging out the driveway. This list could be your ticket to staying safe and out of the doctor’s office this winter. Being that a major aspect of shoveling safely is proper body movement, if you find yourself having a question about proper shoveling mechanics contact your Physical Therapist to ensure that you are taking the right preventative measures. If you do sustain an injury while shoveling this winter, contact your local Strive Physical Therapy to determine if you are in need of an evaluation to address your injury.
Stay safe and shovel away!
Ryan Ackerman, DPT
Ryan is a graduate of Drexel University with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Prior to beginning graduate school, Ryan attended Rutgers University in Camden where he received his bachelor’s degree with a major in Biology and minor in Psychology. Through his extensive orthopedic classes and multiple outpatient clinical affiliations, Ryan has had various forms of exposure to common outpatient conditions. As part of his outpatient affiliations, Ryan spent his final clinical internship at Strive’s Cherry Hill location. Ryan plans to further his education in the field of Physical Therapy by obtaining his McKenzie certification and eventually becoming an Orthopedic Certified Specialist. Ryan is currently a member of the APTA and believes in the importance of remaining up to date with evidence based Physical Therapy.