The winter season is upon us, which means we may find ourselves outside shoveling snow at one point or another. With snow shoveling being a repetitive exercise, it can lead to muscle strain or injury, especially to the low back or shoulders, if not performed correctly. To ensure that you’re shoveling safely, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers several excellent tips to keep in mind when shoveling snow during the winter months such as the tips listed below:
- Using a shovel with a shaft will help you keep a better grip on the shovel and also help keep your back straight.
- Avoid using a shovel that is too long, as this could make the snow pile heavier to lift, causing strain to your back.
- Make sure to shovel smaller piles of snow at a time instead of very heavy piles.
- Remember to take breaks frequently when needed by walking around and standing up straight.
- Helpful stretching exercises for your back include backward bending. Stand up straight and tall and position your hands at the back of your hips while gently arching backwards for a few seconds.
In line with the recommendations from the APTA, our very own physical therapist, Maureen Ambrose offers a few tips, in her own words, as well:
- Maintain a straight spine and bend at the hips and knees when shoveling snow. Lifting a heavy load with a rounded back increases stress on the spine.
- After filling your shovel, press down through your feet and squeeze your glutes to stand up.
- Avoid twisting your spine with a full shovel of snow when emptying your shovel. After lifting, take 1-2 small steps to turn your body towards the snow pile.
In addition to the tips above, it’s also important to remember proper hydration. Although you may not feel as thirsty in the cold weather or sweat as much as you would during the warmer months, you are still physically exerting yourself and need to remember to stay hydrated. Being in a dehydrated state could cause you to experience side effects like muscle cramps and fatigue, headaches, or impaired coordination and concentration to name a few. To help avoid dehydration, keep a bottle of water readily available when shoveling and remember to drink plenty of fluids each day!
A helpful tip if drinking cold water during the cold temperatures doesn’t sound very appealing is to try drinking warm herbal caffeine-free teas. Additionally, many fruits and vegetables like watermelon, oranges, tomatoes, spinach, and celery are mostly comprised of water and can also contribute to your fluid intake. For more information on the importance of water and helpful tips to drink more throughout your day, see our previous blog post here: Hydration.
Don’t forget to hydrate, and if you or someone you know is experiencing back pain, call our office today to make an appointment with one of our physical therapists!
American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). 2015. Snow shoveling. Retrieved from: http://www.moveforwardpt.com/resources/detail.aspx?cid=bc1413cc-3ed6-4cf9-888f-3955df4a1b13#.VmcclRyCa0Z
WebMD. (2014). Dehydration overview. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/dehydration-topic-overview
*As a reminder, always discuss any questions or concerns with your physician regarding your health, as the information written should not replace any medical advice.