In the Midwest, we’re accustomed to winter, but the weather seems to surprise us every year. Shoveling snow may be hard work, but there are ways to make it easier on your body. Activity is good for you, but you don’t want to over-tax the heart or muscles and joints.
Lower-back injury from snow shoveling may be related to excessive joint loading. These stresses are a common cause of low back strains and vertebral disc damage.
The top 10 ways to avoid injury when shoveling snow:
1. Always check with your health care provider before participating in vigorous activity. You may be advised to avoid shoveling snow due to your specific health issues.
2. Stop immediately and seek assistance if you experience any type of pain or shortness of breath.
3. Wear the proper clothing for this activity: Dress in light layers to stay warm in the beginning, but be able to shed layers as heat builds so you can moderate your body temperature. Wear gloves to keep your hands warm and dry; this will also reduce blisters.
4. Pick a snow shovel wisely.
a. A bent-handled snow shovel keeps your back straighter when shoveling.
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b. The length is correct when you can slightly bend your knees, flex your back 10 degrees or less, and handle it comfortably at the start of the shoveling stroke.
c. A lighter shovel taking smaller paths will put less stress on your back. This will reduce the load of a heavier pile of snow to shovel.
5. Pushing the snow puts less stress on the back and heart than throwing it. Push whenever possible.
6. With any activity, it’s better to be warmed up. This will get the muscles and joints ready for work.
7. Keep your hands at a comfortable distance for optimum leverage, about 12 inches. This reduces strain on you and your back.
8. Lift the snow properly. Squat with your legs, bending at your knees and keeping your back straight. Don’t bend at the waist. Also lift with your legs. Lift small amounts and walk to where you dump the snow. Pace yourself and take frequent breaks.
9. Remember wet snow can be very heavy. One full shovel load can weigh as much as 25 pounds.
10. Consider buying a snow-blower. When used correctly, a snow-blower will put far less strain on your back than shoveling snow.
If you’re in shape and ready to work this winter, it’s good thing to remember family members and neighbors who aren’t as fit. They may need help to clear the snow and it does the heart and mind good to help those in need.
Ron Boesch, D.C., is a 1991 graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic. He’s been a clinical instructor at Palmer College of Chiropractic’s main campus in Davenport since 2006 and is the dean of clinics.