Shovel Safe!

Shovel Safe!   Avoid Injury this Winter.

In Maine, snow shoveling is a fact of life.  Given the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular demands of this activity, it’s no surprise that injuries are common in the winter.  You are particularly vulnerable to back injury when shoveling, so it’s important to keep in mind proper body positioning and technique.  According to the Canadian National Occupational Health and Safety Resource (CCOHS), your snow shovel should come up to chest height.  Using a light-weight shovel, around three pounds, will decrease your workload and increase efficiency, allowing you to get this hated chore over with faster.

When you stand, you naturally have an inward curve in your back.  It is important to maintain this curve while shoveling to avoid back injury.  Grip the shovel with one hand on the handle and the other as close to the bottom of the shovel as possible.  Stand in a lunge position, with your feet wide apart.  Bend your knees, putting your weight on your front leg to load the shovel; when you are working quickly, the load should not exceed 10-15 pounds (CCOHS). Straighten your knees and use your leg strength to lift the snow.  Ideally, you should throw the snow directly in front of you about 3 feet; if you have to throw it in another direction, move your feet in that direction. NEVER twist at the waist or throw the snow over your shoulder!

You may also consider:

  • An ergonomically designed shovel, which as a bent handle rather than a straight one.  Studies show that these shovels reduce strain and discomfort in the low back, arms, and wrists.
  • Dress in warm, light-weight clothing that allows free movement.  Your innermost layer should allow sweat to escape from your skin surface.
  • Shoveling is a work-out, so it’s a good idea to warm up by stretching and walking briskly for a few minutes to get your muscles ready.  While shoveling, pace yourself and remember to hydrate (and no, beer does not count as hydration).
  • When you’re done, follow up with the backbend stretch.

Shovel safe, and have fun in the snow!

By: Anne Knowles, PT, and Jennifer Wolfe, SPT.

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