Snow shoveling injuries are common because of the awkward, slightly bent forward posture and heavy loads on the shovel. This can result in a sudden and painful muscle strain, pinched spinal nerve, or herniated disc. I’d love to be able to help prevent these injuries so keep reading for a few safety tips.
Warm-up first. Cold muscles are naturally stiff and easily injured by strenuous activity. A few minutes of gentle dynamic stretching and flexing your joints can save you a lot of pain later. A few minutes on the treadmill, some jumping jacks, squats, or lunges are a great warm up.
Layer your clothing. Layered clothing keeps your muscles warm and flexible. A great idea is to have a thin polyester layer first followed by a cotton layer. The polyester will wick moisture away from your skin. Wear gloves that cover your wrists – if your wrists get cold, your fingers, hands, and arms will be cold as well. When you are warm you’ll be more willing to take your time and be safe.
Use the right shovel. The length of your shovel should be about chest high. This will allow you to keep your back straight when lifting. An ergonomic shovel is even better. A shovel with a short staff forces you to bend more to lift the load – placing stress on your lower back. A too-tall shovel makes the weight heavier at the end, again placing more stress on your body.
Timing. If possible, wait until the afternoon to shovel – especially if you already know that you have bulging discs. Many disc injuries occur in the morning because your discs become fully hydrated while you are laying down during the night. This increases the fluid pressure in the disc and makes them more susceptible to injury when stress is placed on them – stress from lifting a heavy load or bending over repeatedly to push snow.
Maintain proper posture. Use a scissors stance in which you work with one foot forward and shift your weight to that leg as you move the snow – use your hips and knees to create movement, not your lower back. Push the snow straight ahead, don’t throw it – don’t try to be a hero. Walk it to the snow bank. When you do need to lift, do it with your legs and keep your back straight. Avoid any twisting as you move the snow – it’s impossible to protect your back while twisting.
Take your time! Working too hard, too fast is an easy way to strain muscles. Taking frequent breaks is an important way to prevent injury from repetitive movements. I know we all just want to get the job done, but finishing it without getting hurt is far more important.
Finally, don’t wait if you get injured!
Muscle strains and disc injuries are often notoriously slow to heal. Many people wait for several weeks to “see if the pain will go away on its own.”
I want to make two important points about this:
First – the sooner you begin treatment, the faster your back will heal, so don’t wait!!
Secondly, the pain going away is a poor indicator of healing. In fact, it’s the worst indicator. The injured muscles, ligaments and discs are likely still injured – you just don’t know it. The problem will continue to fester until a much worse pain and problem reveals itself in a few weeks or months.