‘Tis the season for our physical therapists to see patients come to our clinic with strains and injuries from snow shoveling. Often we see bone and joint injury, or damage to the hips, knees, or back from shoveling. As physical therapists, it is not only our job to help patients recover from injury, but also help patients in preventing injuries in the first place. With proper technique and equipment, shoveling can be just another chore with no worry of injury.
There are many ways to make shoveling easier, and with less risk of muscle strain. Here are some tips for shoveling safely for an injury free winter:
1. Choose The Right Shovel
Let’s start with the basics: picking a shovel. The right snow shovel makes all the difference in preventing injury. The size of the shovel should be such that you do not have to bend over awkwardly to use it, causing a strain on the back. There are shovels with adjustable handle lengths that ensure that whoever in your household is using it can do so without discomfort.
A shovel with a curved handle can also make ergonomic shoveling easier. Too heavy of material or a metal blade can be another contributing factor to injury and muscle strain. When choosing which shovel to purchase or use, check how much you have to bend over to operate it. If you are straining your lower back or neck to use it, it’s not the right fit for you!
2. Maintain Good Posture
That brings us to posture. Once you have the right snow shovel for you, it will be easier to maintain a posture that will protect against injury. When shoveling, it is important to bend at the hips, and use your leg muscles to ensure that you are not straining your lower back.
When pushing the shovel, don’t load the blade with too much snow. To protect your lower back and body, have your hips facing the direction you are pushing and lifting the snow. Twisting when pushing, lifting, or tossing the snow can cause strain or injury to the back or neck. Keeping your hips square to the shovel will prevent this type of strain.
3. The Right Method is Key
- Warm Up
The right shovel for you and proper posture are the foundation for a method that will protect your body and prevent injury. Shoveling can be viewed as a type of exercise: you are using your muscles to clear your walkways and driveways! An athlete would not start exercising without warming up their muscle, especially not when heading out into a cold weather workout.
The same goes for you: heading straight out into the frigid air and putting your cold muscles to work could cause more harm than good. When muscles are warmed up, they are loose and better equipped for movement and use. Cold muscles put to work are stiff and tight, and easier to strain or more susceptible to being sore the following days. Warming up can be as simple as a couple of light exercises to loosen your arm, leg, and back muscles before stepping outside.
- Divide And Conquer
When your muscles are warmed up, you are ready to go! Pick up that just-right-for-you shovel, square your hips, and begin. It is always better to push the snow rather than lift, which may mean clearing a path right down the middle of your driveway, leaving two smaller halves of snow on either side of your cleared line. Then, you have smaller sections to push the snow out to the sides of the driveway. This will lessen the load when it comes to pushing the snow.
- Lift With Proper Posture
If you have to pick up and toss the snow, just remember our posture tips: hips and shoulders facing where you are aiming, and no twisting! Use one hand to grab the shaft as (comfortably) close to the blade as you can, lift with your legs, and toss. Bend your legs instead of lower back.
4. Wear the Right Gear
Keeping your body warm, as we mentioned, will protect your muscles. Wear clothes appropriate for the weather. What we really want to emphasize, however, is what is on your feet. So often in the winter we help patients recover from fall injuries that could have been prevented with proper shoes.
When shoveling, wear winter boots with good traction! This is such an easy and simple way to care for your body. If your walkway or driveway is icy, you can even consider wearing winter traction cleats on your feet. These easy to use plastic cleats just slip over the bottom of your shoes, and provide that extra added traction to keep you safe and injury free.
5. OPTI Has Your Back
If you do injure yourself this winter, we have your back (pun intended). Our physical therapists have a wide variety of professional backgrounds, all with the shared goal of providing the highest level of care. We help our patients not only recover, but strive to enhance every day life function. You can expect to be treated with compassion and expert guidance on your road to recovery.
At Orthopedic Physical Therapy, we know that prevention is key to maintaining health. We want to equip our patients for a better life, and do just that with everyone that walks through our door. If you are injured or facing a surgery that you want to bounce back from, we can help you on the path back to health. Call us today at (208) 966-4476 to schedule your first step towards health.