It doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight for all the snow we’ve been getting on Long Island! As it continues to come down heavily, we’ll all be out there shoveling snow quite often, which can actually be a great workout if you do it right.
Snow shoveling requires your whole body to engage, so it’s actually really efficient if you’re trying to burn some calories. However, if you’re overzealous about what you’re capable of taking on, you run the risk of seriously injuring yourself while shoveling snow.
In a national study done by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, hospitals across the country treat an average of 11,500 injuries and medical emergencies that result from shoveling snow. Because shoveling snow is a repetitive activity, there’s an increased risk of straining the muscles in your lower back and shoulders if you don’t lift properly. It has actually been found that people ages 20 to 50 are most likely to sustain back injuries while shoveling because they are unaware of how easily they can injure themselves.
Here are some tips to keep in mind while you’re outside shoveling so that your winter workout ends with a rewarding cup of hot cocoa instead of a trip to the emergency room:
Just like any other workout, take the time to warm up before you get going. For about 10 minutes before you start shoveling snow, walk around or march in place to get your body warmed up and ready to work. Stretch your arms and legs so that they’re not stiff when you start shoveling.
- Make sure you’re wearing boots with good tread that will prevent you from slipping. One of the easiest ways to severely strain your lower back is by slipping suddenly.
- Try to wait until the afternoon to shovel if you can. When you first wake up, there’s more fluid pressure in your spinal discs than later in the day, which is why many disc injuries occur in the morning.
- Always lift with your legs and never your back. To be sure you’re lifting with your legs, bend your knees when you’re lifting. Don’t think that the job will go by more quickly if you heave the heaviest mounds of snow possible—lift lighter loads to avoid hurting yourself (and you’ll also be able to move more quickly!).
- Use a shovel that’s height appropriate. If your shovel is too short, it’ll cause you to bend over when you’re lifting, and you’re less likely to injure yourself when you keep your back straight. If your shovel is too long, your distance from the snow you’re lifting will actually make the weight of it heavier.
- Avoid twisting and bending forward any more than you must. Your back should be straight whenever possible, and you should be bending at your knees so that you lift with your legs. In order to avoid twisting your lower back when emptying your shovel, step in the direction in which you’re throwing the snow.
- Take breaks often. Stand up straight and walk around to stretch your lower back. Listen to your body; if you feel pain or are short of breath, it means you need to take a breather.
Come in to speak with an experienced physical therapist at Physical Solutions if you have any questions about how to stay safe while shoveling snow this year. If you do experience an injury while shoveling, our team is ready to help you on your road to recovery.