December 2014 – “Practice Safe Shoveling Techniques”

Shoveling snow is a very strenuous winter task. If not done properly, it can cause strain and injury. Repetitive tasks, such as shoveling, are grounds for muscle soreness and strain, so make sure you are aware of the possible hazards that go along with those tasks.

In my column last month, I discussed how to decrease the risk of falling when walking on slick surfaces. Pair last month’s balance tips with the following shoveling techniques and keep yourself safe and injury-free this winter!

  • If you have a heart condition, avoid shoveling altogether
  • Warm up beforehand by performing stretching exercises to prepare your muscles
  • Do not lift snow higher than four feet or throw it more than three feet
  • Take your time: do not shovel more than 15 scoops per minute
  • Shovel smaller scoops rather than larger scoops
  • When you can, try to push snow rather than lift it
  • Minimize your twisting motions: keep the shovel close to your body and always face the direction in which you are moving the snow
  • To avoid unnecessary muscle strain, try to remain upright while lifting or pushing snow

In general, listen to your body while shoveling. If you feel tired or your muscles are becoming sore, take a break! If you feel pain, then stop shoveling immediately.

In addition to practicing safe movements during shoveling, consider what equipment you are using as well. Companies have developed shovels in certain shapes and sizes that promote safety through new ergonomic designs.

Always remember that shoveling is a strenuous task for your muscles. Oftentimes, shoveling results in delayed onset muscle soreness. After repetitive movements and lifting, soreness can be expected as long as 48 to 72 hours afterwards. This is a relatively normal response, but if you do not feel improvement after a few days, be sure to see a physical therapist to make sure you do not have a more severe muscle injury. Your physical therapist can help to rehabilitate your muscles and decrease soreness, so be sure to listen to your body and seek help when needed.

Happy Holidays, and stay safe!