Snow Shoveling the Correct Way to Avoid Injuries
by Meryle Richman, PT, DPT, MS
● Lift smaller loads of snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls. Be sure to take care to bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than your back.
● Use a shovel with a shaft that lets you keep your back straight while lifting. A short shaft will cause you to bend more to lift the load. Using a shovel that’s too long makes the weight at the end heavier. Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow to prevent the low back from twisting. This will help prevent “next-day back fatigue.”
● Avoid excessive twisting because the spine cannot tolerate twisting as well as it can tolerate other movements. Bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible so that you are lifting with your legs.
● Take frequent breaks when shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.
● Backward bending exercises while standing will help reverse the excessive forward bending of shoveling: stand straight and tall, place your hands toward the back of your hips, and bend backwards slightly for several seconds.
Here are some Healthy Tips for Safely Shoveling Snow
Stretches that target the trunk, legs and upper body:
● Counter-Top stretch (Low back): Place your hands on your kitchen counter and walk backwards until your body makes an L-shape. Bend or hinge forward from your hips, while keeping your back lengthened your arms forward. You will feel a stretch in your back and throughout your trunk. Hold this for 10 long, deep breaths.
● Heel Up On a Chair stretch (hamstrings): While holding onto some support, straighten your leg out and place your heel up on a chair, tighten that thigh, and pull those toes towards your body. Feel the stretch in the back of your leg. There’s no need to bend forward and it’s better if you don’t. Just stand up tall and keep both legs active. Hold 10 breaths. Repeat other side.
● Bent Knee with Ankle in Hand stretch (quadriceps): Keep holding onto some support as you grab one foot with one hand behind your buttocks and hold it as you bend that leg. You should feel this stretch in the front of the thigh of the bent leg as you hold for 10 breaths. Repeat other side.
Core Strengthening Exercise:
● While standing, imagine pulling your belly button in towards your spine and engage your abdominal muscles without letting your pelvis tuck under. Try holding this for 5-10 seconds while breathing normally and repeat this a few times until it makes sense. This exercise uses the innermost layer of abdominal and back muscles and reminds your body where the center of your core strength is.
● As you are shoveling snow, focus on the rotating movements happening in your hip joints. You can place your finger on the front of your hip joints (located at the top of each thigh near the groin) and practice a few sways side to side, simulating raking. Avoid letting the rotation happen at your waist—this will cause unnecessary movement around your lumbar spine.
● Continue to focus on the core strength exercise above and engage your belly button in towards your spine as you rake, activating those lumbar spine stabilizers. Pay attention to loosening up any stiffness in your legs and trunk muscles and you will go a long way to preventing injury to your back!
If your back hurts from shoveling snow or you have complaints of neck or shoulder pain, call to make an appointment with one of our staff of knowledgeable physical therapists for a free 15 minute consultation. Our experienced and dedicated licensed physical therapists can also help you get started with treatment. With Direct Access a prescription is not required to be evaluated. . Most insurance plans are accepted. Contact IvyRehab Briarcliff (914) 762-2222 and IvyRehab Jefferson Valley (914) 245-8807 or visit our Website —www.ivyrehab.com — to learn more about Direct Access.