Winter has not started off lightly this year and it is certainly far from over. Winter’s cold and snow brings smiles to the faces of winter sport enthusiasts, but the idea of ice, shoveling, and snow removal is quite a different story for others. In fact, far too many of us end up visiting an orthopedist or physical therapist during the winter months, most commonly with complaints of lower back and spine-related pain.

Follow these helpful tips to reduce your chance of injury this winter and beyond.

Warm Up

Few of us consider snow shoveling as anything other than a daunting task that we can’t wait to finish. In our rush to get the job done, too often we neglect to properly warm up and overlook how physically intense snow shoveling can truly be. Before getting layered up for the cold, take a moment inside the warmth of your home to perform stretches to get your muscles and joints ready for the hard work ahead.

Proper Clothing

Once stretched, make sure to appropriately layer for the cold. Layering correctly will help avoid sweating which will only make you colder. Moisture wicking base layers work best to help avoid any sweat being absorbed into your clothing. Equally important to your clothing, warm boots with good traction will help to keep your feet warm and prevent any falls due to slipping.

Push Snow When Possible

When you can, avoid lifting snow altogether. Pick a shovel that allows you to push the snow like a plow. If you must lift the snow into a pile, first use the shovel to push snow close to the area you would like to pile snow, then lift the snow with the shovel.

Don’t Rotate

When lifting snow with a shovel, do not rotate your torso to throw the snow. Instead, bend at the knees and hip while maintaining a natural spinal position and use your legs to help lift the snow on the shovel. To turn, move your feet so they are square to where you will be putting the snow. Keep the shovel close to your body to eliminate any unneeded work.

Take Breaks and Shovel Often

During the course of a snow storm, shovel a few times to limit how much snow you are lifting per session. Waiting for all of the snow to fall during a storm ultimately creates harder work, increasing your chance of injury. If you stay on top of shoveling during a storm, you may be able to push the snow entirely and not have to lift the snow at all. Take breaks and stay hydrated to minimize your risk of injury.

What to Do If You Get Injured Shoveling Snow

Winter brings with it far too many visits to the doctor with shoveling-related injuries. Most are preventable with proper warm up, slip-resistant boots, breaks, and appropriate shoveling technique. However, should an injury occur, seek proper care so that the injury does not persist. Listen to your body and visit your primary care provider for a referral, or contact a physical therapist or specialist directly to seek treatment for an injury related to snow shoveling.

Ryan Grey is Assistant Director of Fitness at the Greater Burlington YMCA. He holds a BS in Exercise Science from the University of Vermont and is a certified personal trainer. To learn more about fitness, including personal training, at the YMCA, contact Ryan at rgrey@gbymca.org or call 802-652-8183.

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