Have a Happy Snow Day: Advice for Safe Snow Shoveling

The winter season never seems to end! As Minnesotans, we have become accustomed to drastic weather changes, particularly with snow, and we always keep hats, mittens, and down coats easily accessible. As the shovels come out, keep these safety tips in mind in order to keep yourself out of the emergency room and outside to enjoy fresh fallen snow.

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Before you head outside, make sure you have breathable layers on. Wearing layers of loose clothing will allow you to bundle up, but also give you the option to take off if you get too hot. Ensuring you have the ability to let your perspiration evaporate is an important part to prevent overheating.  Cotton is often a good choice. Quality, warm, and waterproof footwear with good traction are also an item to keep on your checklist. Appropriate shoes for the job will not only keep your feet dry and prevent frostbite, but will also help to prevent falls from slipping.

Even if there are only a couple inches worth of powder on your driveway, clear the small layer of snow to avoid bulky build up and formation of ice. Staying ahead of the snow can prevent moving large, heavy loads and decrease the risk of straining the low back. Dynamically warming up can also prepare the body for the hard work it’s about to endure. Performing light twists of your trunk, mini squats, and arm swings can help promote blood flow and warm/ready the muscles for work.

When moving snow, use the motto, “push, don’t lift”. If you push the snow, rather than lifting it to remove it, you will exert less energy, therefore less stress on your body. If lifting cannot be avoided, lift smaller loads of snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls. Be sure to take care to bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than your back. Grip the shovel closer the to scoop to shorten your lever arm and step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow, rather than twisting. This will take further stress off the low back.

Allow yourself to take frequent breaks. Standing up straight or performing light back bends can help you get out of the stooped and bent over posture of shoveling and give you the endurance you need for the whole driveway. Also do this at the end, once the driveway if clear. During break periods, also ensure you have adequate hydration. Even though it may not seem important in the cold weather, you should drink as if you are completing a tough workout or long distance run.

Even with the best preventative measures, injuries can still happen. The amount of snow we’ve had this winter can also lead to an accumulation of aches and pains, making it harder to recover between the storms. If they do, or if you have any questions or concerns regarding your low back pain or strategies to strengthen and return to your daily activities, contact your musculoskeletal specialists at In Touch Physical Therapy. Our well-trained therapists will address your needs, answer your questions, and help you stay pain free for the rest of the winter.

Dr. Emily Deno