It happens every year at this time. People injure themselves while shoveling snow.
The most common injuries while shoveling snow are back and shoulder injuries. While these injuries are most often moderate injuries that can be resolved, the best way to treat the injury is to prevent it in the first place.
Shoveling snow places a large amount of stress on the lower back because of the forward flexion position most of us assume while shoveling. For your safety, avoid a forward lean when you shovel and maintain the natural curve in your spine. Keep the shovel close to your body to prevent the forward lean. Also, letting your legs do the work will save your back from absorbing the load. To use your legs, bend your knees and lift the snow as if you’re doing a squat. Make sure your knees stay over your feet and don’t allow them to extend beyond your toes.
Make sure you shovel with a linear motion. Twisting motions are the ones that will produce the bad lower back strains that are so common when shoveling. Remember to test the load before beginning. Snow comes in all types and some snows are heavier than others. The light, fluffy snow we get during colder weather is less dangerous than the wet, heavy snow we tend to get this time of year. Take your time and lift lighter amounts of snow.
Shoveling can also cause shoulder injuries and pain. Your shoulder muscles can fatigue quickly then pay the price for overuse. Again, try to let your legs do the majority of the work. Don’t extend your arms away from your body and don’t forcefully throw the snow outward or upward.
Try to use a push shovel whenever possible. It is much easier to use your powerful core muscle to push snow rather than using your back and shoulders when lifting snow. Pay attention to your body while shoveling. Stretch before and during and make sure you take breaks to give your back and shoulders a chance to rest. It’s especially important to take a break if you feel any discomfort or pain. Assess the pain fully before resuming and quit completely if you need to. Remember it’s not a race and you want to finish without injury.
Probably the most important thing you can do to prevent injury is to have a strong and healthy body. Strength in your legs, back, and shoulders gives you the ability to work harder for a longer period of time with a lower risk of injury. Make sure your gym workout includes leg exercises like squats, lunges, or leg presses. Your back workout needs exercises like rows, pulldowns, and back extensions. For shoulders, do shoulder presses and raises to the front, side and rear.
The best treatment is prevention so be aware of how you’re shoveling and how your body feels. Take your time and your back and shoulders will come through with flying colors.
Kent Pegg is a certified personal trainer and the owner of the Los Alamos Fitness Center. Direct questions about the information in this column to him at 505.662.5232.