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Surviving Snow Shoveling           snow shoveling

With snow shoveling, specially the wet heavy stuff, comes the increased incidences of heart attacks and back injuries.

Why the Heart Attacks?

The reason for the heart attacks, while shoveling, is over stressing the heart with exertion.

The two main reasons for this are: 1- lack of physical conditioning and 2- trying to get the job done too quickly.

You need to know your limits and you need to pace yourself. However, when the snow falls, and you need to get to work, the scramble is on to move as much snow as quickly as possible. Hence, the heart attack or injured back.

Why the back injuries? 

Again, the need to know your limits and pacing yourself are paramount. There is also the need to use proper body mechanics in order to minimize strain on the back . As in every physical activity, you need to develop a balance between strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness.

So how do you survive the winter shoveling?

When the snow comes, plan your efforts. Take whatever time it takes to do the job safely. Injuring your back or suffering a heart attack is a very real possibility and not worth the risk.

Stay mindful of your body mechanics and level of exertion with every push and lift of the shovel. Use your legs and arms not your back. Push the shovel into the snow with your foot (see elf at top of page), instead of jarring your body by plunging into the snow with your arms and back. Keep a straight back while lifting with your legs. Turn by stepping with your legs to the direction in which you will throw the snow. Throw the snow straight ahead with a lunging move using arms and legs. Use your abdominal muscles to help stabilize and maintain a natural spinal position. ( click here to see article on bracing with your abs)

image showing do not throw snow overhead

 What not to do.

Along with not plunging the shovel into the snow with your arms, as mentioned above, do not  throw the snow over your shoulder.

Do not throw the snow by twisting your back to the side. Use your legs to turn toward the direction you will throw the snow, as mentioned above.

Whenever possible, push the snow out of the way without lifting. Use an ergonomically designed shovel – great for pushing without the need to bend forward, due to its long and angled handle. Use a smaller shovel with long handle for digging. It is easier to work with small bites of snow when digging. Most importantly, PACE YOURSELF and watch your level of exertion.

Yes, a snow blower makes the job very easy. However, there are always the steps and walkways where the snow blower won’t fit.

The excerpt below is repeated from my article, titled “Raking Leaves Without Wrecking Your Back”. The same holds true for Snow Shoveling.

What can you do to prevent back pain?

  1. Use proper body mechanics.
  2. Develop an appropriate balance of muscle strength, flexibility and endurance.
  3. Pace yourself.
  4. Always do some warm up exercises prior to any yard work. This helps prepare the muscles for the onslaught of work.
  5. Always stretch.

    Stretching and flexibility exercises are best done to loosen muscles that have been worked and are still warm. They may however, be incorporated in your warm up if you feel tight before starting your work.

Suggestions made in this publication are no substitute for medical advice. If you have any pain or difficulty performing the described stretches, seek advice from your appropriate health professional.

About the Author
Domenic Lopez B.Sc., LMT, ACSM CEP,  is owner and operator of Healthy Moves, a private practice where massage therapy and movement education help you achieve better living.