Snow Shoveling Safety
Posted on 3/21/2018 by Dorothy Lehr, DPT, OCS, Cert. MDT
Major snowstorms have already hit many parts of the country this winter, and the fourth nor'easter in three weeks is currently battering the East Coast, drowning out any hopes of spring. There is lots of fun to be had with the fluffy white powder, but removing snow from sidewalks and driveways is an unenviable chore and one that can cause a plethora of physical problems.
With that in mind, below are a few tips and stretches to keep you safe and healthy while out in the winter wonderland:
Choose an ergonomically correct shovel, one which has a curved handle and an adjustable handle length. As opposed to a straight line shovel, a shovel which is small, lightweight and curved will allow you to carry a manageable load of snow and keep your back straighter, reducing spinal stress.
Proper shoveling technique is just as important as the correct shovel. Keep your back straight and bend at your hips and knees. When moving the snow to a new location, avoid twisting your body. Instead, turn your whole body by pivoting your legs.
Avoid slipping on slick areas or black ice by wearing shoes or boots with good tread. Applying pet-friendly salt, sand or kitty litter will also increase traction and decrease the risk of slipping.
Snow shoveling can be as physically demanding as a gym workout and should be treated like a day in the gym. Don’t overexert yourself, especially when the snow is wet and heavy. In deep snow, take a few inches off the top and tackle the job by dividing it into thirds, with one-hour rest breaks.
Snow shoveling is a cardiovascular and weight-lifting exercise, and just like you would stretch before working out at the gym, performing the stretches described below before, after and even during snow shoveling can help in preventing an injury.
Lumbar Extension – This stretch will help in balancing any forward bending that may occur during shoveling. While standing or lying on your stomach, bend back as far as is comfortable and hold for three to five seconds. Perform 10-15 repetitions.
Lumbar Extension - Step 1 Lumbar Extension - Step 2
Quadriceps Stretch – While standing, use your right arm to pull your right leg up toward your buttocks. Make sure to keep your trunk straight and use your other arm to hold onto a sturdy object to maintain your balance. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds and perform five reps on each leg. This will help stretch out your quad muscles that you’ll be using to lift while shoveling.
Hip Flexor Stretch – In a half-kneeling position and while maintaining an upright trunk, lunge forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Hold this position for 20 seconds and perform five repetitions on each leg. This stretch will help to stretch the muscles you’ll be using while moving snow and helps to keep your spine in a neutral position.
Sometimes, there will be a winter storm where a snow shovel simply isn’t enough. While a snow blower can certainly help with snow removal, hand injuries such as burns, lacerations, fractures and even amputations can occur if proper techniques aren’t practiced. Here are a few tips to keep you safe while operating a snow blower:
While it sounds simple, never put your hands down the chute or around the blades of a snow blower.
Use a broom handle, clearing stick or another tool to clear any clogs. Wait 10 seconds after the engine has been turned before you attempt to unclog the chute; blades could still be spinning even though the machine has been turned off.
Generally, keep your hands and feet away from all moving parts of a snow blower.Avoid wearing scarves and loose fitting clothing which could become tangled in the moving parts and pull you into the machine.
Never direct the discharge chute toward you, other people or areas where any damage can occur. The blower can also discharge hard objects, such as salt, sticks and ice further and faster than snow.
If you are feeling some unwanted aches and pains or suffered an injury during your clean-up efforts, we’re here for you. Contact the center nearest you to schedule a complimentary consultation. Stay safe and keep thinking spring – it’s coming!
By: Dorothy Lehr, DPT, OCS, Cert. MDT. Dot is a physical therapist and center manager with NovaCare Rehabilitation in Willingboro, NJ. A treating clinician for 12 years, Dot is a board certified orthopaedic specialist and McKenzie credentialed therapist, specializing in spine treatment.