Snow Shoveling – How to Prevent Injuries

Our first snowfall is here whether we like it or not. It is time to find the snow shovel and the salt. While doing this, I remembered all the aches and pains I felt after shoveling, so I decided to find out if I can avoid that this year. Here is what I learned:

7% of injuries and all deaths relate to heart problems. Over 11,000 adults and children are seen in the ER each year with snow-shoveling related injuries. Many of these injures occur in the morning when our back is the most unstable because the back has not felt the forces of gravity for 6 – 9 hours.

This explains part of my aches, but how long should I wait before I go outside and shovel?

It is suggested that we do our morning routine for 30 minutes or more before going outside to shovel. This gets your back use to feeling the force of gravity and gets the muscles moving. However, who wants to get up that much earlier in the morning? I know I don’t. So is there an alternative?

Stretching helps prevent injuries while shoveling snowYes, stretching. By stretching our arms, legs and back before and after shoveling will help the muscles warm up and reduce muscle strains. This can be done by walking around, marching in place and doing a few warm up exercises.

Also, don’t drink that cup of coffee or alcohol before heading out the door. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages may increase your heart rate and can reduce your blood flow. Water or decaffeinated drinks like herbal tea will help hydrate our body before and after you shovel the snow. Fortunately for me, I never liked the taste of coffee.

I’ve warmed up my muscles and avoided caffeinated beverages and alcohol, so now what?

Dress in layers rather than just one large coat. The layers should allow freedom of movement, and you can remove the layers to avoid becoming over heated as you shovel. Make sure nothing gets in the way of your vision, like your hat or scarf. Ice can develop under the snow, so you need to be cautious at all times.

Make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear, gloves and head wear to avoid frostbite. You don’t want to be wearing loose shoes, shoes that aren’t water-resistant or footwear with smooth soles to prevent twisting your ankle, getting cold and wet feet or slipping on the ice.

I’m dressed in layers with the appropriate footwear and gloves, but how do I avoid injuries while I shovel?

Squat using your legs and hips when shoveling and avoid lifting the snow when possible. Keep your back straight, only bend at the waist and avoid twisting. Push the snow whenever possible. This helps reduce the amount of weight carried by your back.

Brush the snow off your car first. Start shoveling at the center of the area you are shoveling and work your way to the edges. This helps prevent having to move the snow twice. Always work the snow closest to you. The farther out you reach, the easier it is to strain your muscles and lower back.

If you must lift the snow, make sure you lift it using your knees and hips. Only put as much snow as you can easily lift, and lift the snow only as high as necessary. DO NOT twist at your waist or throw the snow over your shoulder. This could result in back and muscle injuries. Instead turn using your feet and face the direction you throwing the snow. Also switching the shovel from the right-hand to the left-hand and changing your hand grip periodically will help prevent overworking muscles on one side of your body.

Shovel the snow often during the snowfall to avoid heavy, packed snow and results in less chance of injury. Keep your back to the wind, so you won’t get a face full of snow. Work at a steady pace, about 15 scoops a minute or less, to avoid overworking your muscles. Also, if you are sweating, when you stop you could become chilled. Remove layers to avoid overheating as you shovel. Shoveling snow can take 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the area you are shoveling.

Enjoy the snow without injuries while shovelingIf the snow is sticking to the shovel, spray cooking spray on the shovel blade. If you don’t have cooking spray, car wax, floor wax and candle wax will work as well. This will help the snow easily slide off the shovel and reducing muscle strain.

Above all, don’t overexert yourself. If it is very cold or windy outside, make sure you take breaks when you become too cold, tired or your body is aching. A good rule is to rest for the same length of time that you were shoveling, i.e., 15 minutes of shoveling and 15 minutes of rest.

Most importantly – if you feel pain or anything not normal, STOP. By continuing, you can cause a more serious injuring or health issue. Consult your doctor if you have any health concerns before shoveling the snow.

I survived the first shoveling of the season. I did my warm ups, dress appropriately and drank plenty of fluid to keep hydrated. However, I still had a few aches. Is there anything I can do to limit the aching without taking pain medication?

If you are only have minor muscle soreness, treatment options include rest, ice in first 48 hours and a topical cream. Rest is, of course, the simplest treatment, but who has time to rest especially if the snow starts falling again. Ice only works soon after the soreness begins, but if you are heading off to work after shoveling, this may not be an option.

The topical creams, like IcyHot, BenGay, Biofreeze, etc., will help reduce the pain, but they don’t help the underlying muscles. However, the cream will help until you are able to use a more effective treatment. Our proprietary essential oil, a stainless and greaseless cream or liquid, is an effective temporary painkiller that soothe and reduces muscle soreness.

Links:
Simple Stretching Exercises: from Mayo Clinic, from Real Simple and from SparkPeople

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