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Life in Motion

Safe Shoveling-Tips to Avoid Injury

Health & Prevention

Every winter, after snowstorms, people develop back pain as a result of shoveling, sweeping, clearing snow, breaking up ice or cleaning off the car. The pain may involve the neck, thoracic spine or lower back. There is no way around the strain of shoveling heavy snow, so here are some key tips for avoiding injury while shoveling from Dr. Carol Hartigan, Medical Director of the NEBH Spine Center and Spine Rehabilitation Program.  

  • Stretch properly before shoveling: Don’t forget that shoveling is the ultimate workout and your muscles will be tight because it’s cold. Stretch your back, shoulders and arms for several minutes before you begin.
  • Use the right shovel, or a “back shovel”: This means a shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length so you can minimize bending and arching your back.
  • Use the right technique: Use your legs to power the shovel as opposed to your lower back. Bend at the knees and try to keep your back straight. Refrain from twisting your back to deposit the snow, instead turn your whole body. 
  • Pace yourself: With deep snow expected, don’t try to shovel the entire depth of the snow at one time. Instead remove several inches off the top at a time until you reach the bottom. Take a break every 10-15 minutes or so to rest and stretch. You can also split the job among family members, when it’s safe to be outside.
  • Use a snow blower to minimize the strain: Even with a snow blower, make sure to push with your legs and keep your knees bent to prevent injuring your back.
  • Have a plow clear heavy blizzard snow away from your driveway and sidewalk
  • If you do injure yourself, apply ice to reduce inflammation and use anti-inflammatories if tolerated and with food, until you can see a doctor. Also, keep moving as much as you can tolerate. Movement will stimulate circulation and prevent additional stiffness and tightness.

If you have any type of persistent pain, consult an orthopedic expert.

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