Follow these tips to avoid back injuries this winter

Posted by Anne Voas, PT, Ridgeview Rehab Specialties on Feb 5, 2019 1:30:00 PM

AdobeStock_43581352As Minnesota heads into the later months of winter when larger snowfalls typically arrive, take some time to learn and follow these tips to be safe when shoveling your driveway.

Shoveling snow can lead to a number of health risks including back injuries and heart attacks. The mix of cold temperatures and physical exertion increases the workload on your heart and the position of your body in a forward bend is a significant workload for the spine and back muscles.

The most common shoveling-related injuries are to the lower back so prepare, work smart and stretch after to be safe and avoid a trip to the emergency room this winter.

Follow these tips to stay safe and healthy

  • Warm up. Warm your muscles before heading out to shovel by doing some light movements, such as bending side to side or walking in place.
  • Push rather than lift. Pushing the snow with the shovel instead of lifting can help reduce the strain on your body. When lifting snow, bend your knees and use your legs when possible.
  • Choose your shovel wisely. Ergonomically-designed shovels can help reduce the amount of bending you have to do.
  • Lighten your load. Consider using a lighter-weight plastic shovel instead of a metal one to help decrease the weight being lifted. Also, look for a shovel with less capacity so you aren't lifting as much snow each time.
  • Hit the pause button. Pace yourself and be sure to take frequent breaks. Consider taking a break after 20 to 30 minutes of shoveling, especially when the snow is wet.
  • Keep up with snowfall. Try to shovel snow shortly after it falls, when it is lighter and fluffier. The longer snow stays on the ground, the wetter it can become. Wet snow is heavier and harder to move.
  • Wear layers. Dress in layers and remove them as you get warm to help maintain a comfortable body temperature.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while shoveling.
  • Stretch after. The work has been done by your chest, thighs and back so head inside and lay on your back with bent knees to decompress the spine and back muscles. Place your arms at your sides, shoulder height to stretch the chest. After five minutes, move to a sitting position and stretch your hamstrings for one to two minutes.

If you have injured yourself shoveling, make an appointment with your primary care provider who can help with some immediate pain relief and also refer you to physical therapy to get you back in shoveling shape again.

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Medical and health information presented here is intended to be general in nature, and should not be viewed as a substitute for professional advice. Please consult with a health care professional for all matters relating to personal medical and health care issues. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 

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