Proper Form Reduces Shoveling Injuries

Warming Up, Taking Breaks Important When Moving Snow

The season’s first heavy snowfall can be a literal pain in the back -- or shoulder -- for some people. Every winter, patients come in with lower back or shoulder pain tied to shoveling. Most injuries are caused by poor technique and failing to prepare before grabbing the shovel.

Shoveling snow does not need to hurt. To avoid the strains and sprains associated with clearing the snow from around your house, follow these tips:

Use proper form. Push the snow, do not lift when shoveling. If you need to lift the snow, bend at the hips and bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles. It is important to keep your back straight and to avoid twisting your body. We have all seen people throwing snow over their shoulder as they shovel – that is not the right form and can lead to strains and sprains. If you must move snow a short distance, carry it in the shovel and walk it over to where you plan to pile it up.

Plan ahead. Spread some salt, sand or a de-icer around on the sidewalk and driveway as the snow starts to fall. This will make the surface less slick and cut down on the chance you will slip and fall on any ice when shoveling.

Warm-up. Even if you do not think of it that way, shoveling is exercise. Warm up with gentle stretching and either walk or march in place before grabbing the shovel.

Start early. Removing 2 inches of fluffy snow is easier than moving 6 to 8 inches of packed snow. If your schedule allows, head outside and begin shoveling while it is still snowing.

Take breaks. Shoveling is hard exercise so taking breaks is a must. After 20 or 25 minutes of work, head inside to take a short break and drink some water (or something warm). Staying hydrated is essential when exercising. Since it is cold outside and people are normally bundled up, it is easy to get sweaty when shoveling so be sure to restore any lost fluids. If you begin early and go out a few times to shovel, you will naturally have breaks in your schedule. 

Get the proper shovel. Grab a light, plastic shovel that is the correct height. If the shovel is too heavy or the wrong height, you are more likely to injure your back. A shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length may be a good choice since it will minimize any bending you need to do.

If shoveling leaves you with aching muscles, ice the affected area several times a day and do some gentle stretching. If you do not feel better after a few days or you begin feeling worse, see your medical provider to rule out any serious injuries.

Erica Kroncke, MD, is a sports medicine physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care in Appleton.