Chiropractic Tips To Shovel Snow Safely

Snow shoveling is more than just another necessary household chore. If you live in Minnesota, it is a necessary evil. It happens every winter in the Midwest: Snow falls, usually leaving piles of the stuff to clear from your sidewalks and driveway. Consider the following before you grab your shovel after a major snowfall.

Shoveling Snow Can Strain Your Body

All that bending and heavy lifting can put you at serious risk for injury. Snow shoveling can be dangerous even if you exercise regularly. Shoveling improperly could lead to a strained back, but even more significant is the higher risk of a possible heart attack.

Snow shoveling is actually demanding on the body. Researchers have found that the energy used to shovel snow is comparable to the amount of energy needed to complete an active round of singles tennis or speed walking at 5 m.p.h.

Consider back safety when shoveling snow.  The average shovel loaded with 16 pounds of snow ends up moving 192 pounds of snow if you load your shovel about 12 times a minute. That’s almost 2,000 pounds being lifted in just over 10 minutes!  I’m getting subluxated just reading that!

According to the 2009 US Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Approximately 16,500 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries that happened while shoveling or removing ice and snow manually
  • More than 6,000 people were injured using snowblowers

The most common injuries associated with snow shoveling include muscle strains and sprains, particularly in the back and shoulders.  We also see a lot of disc herniations where it bulges backwards into that nerve, so a lot of back pain

Tips for Snow Shoveling

Consider your physical condition. If you are out of shape you should proceed with caution. Snow is heavy and shoveling is hard work – you don’t want to risk a serious injury or jeopardize your health. If you have a heart condition or back problems, you should definitely not shovel snow unless your doctor approves it.

  • Warm-up your muscles. Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin this physical workout, warm-up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise. Your St Paul MN chiropractor can recommend an at home exercise program. Here are some examples of common exercises you can do at home to strengthen your back.  It is beneficial to do these exercises daily to gain the maximum benefit.

Note: Many people stop exercising to give their back a chance to rest and recover. Not exercising can often make the problem worse, unless the injury is acute and needs rest.

  • Pace yourself. Snow shoveling and snow blowing are aerobic activities. Take frequent breaks and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. Dehydration is just as big an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer.
  • Listen to your body. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, stop the activity and seek emergency care.
  • Proper equipment. Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
  • Proper lifting. Technique is very important. By maintaining the right posture, you can lighten the workload and stress on your body and also prevent back pain and soreness. Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, do it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs not your back. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once. Pick-up smaller loads of snow. It’s best to shovel by sections.

Shovel Snow Safely

The good news is 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity, according to the 1996 Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health. So, snow shoveling is good exercise and can be fun when done correctly and with safety in mind.  It can even be counted towards the recommended 30 minutes of exercise we should strive for daily.

So enjoy the snow this year, but remember that when it comes to shoveling snow, stay safe. Taking heed of these simple tips could make the difference between spending your day enjoying the new snowfall or lying in bed with a sore back, sprained ankle or other injury that could have been easily avoided.