If the start of the season is any indication, salt, shovels and snow blowers are in the forecast for most of us over the next two months or so. This means more risk of injury. Although cardiac-related injuries tend to be the most serious, sprains and strains, especially in the back and shoulders, are the most common injuries related to snow shoveling.
“This time of the year, we tend to see many shoulder and elbow fractures due to slips and falls,” said Andrew F. Kuntz, MD, Shoulder and Elbow Surgeon at Penn Orthopaedics. “We also encounter a good number of sprains and strains directly related to snow removal.”
It is important to note that the design of the snow shovel does very little to help those with pre-existing back and shoulder problems. The length tends to be too short for most and a shovel made of steel adds significant weight that an individual must lift. And poor form can force individuals to bend and twist with heavy snow, which can lead to injuries.
There are tips, though, that you can follow which can help to reduce the risk of these types of injuries:
Warm-up your muscles
You should always remember that shoveling can be a very vigorous activity. If your muscles are cold and tight, you will be more susceptible to injury. Do some light exercises, stretch your lower back and hamstrings and loosen your arms, legs and shoulders before venturing outside - just as you would for any other workout.
Use proper technique
Just like weight lifting, having good technique can help you avoid injury and use your energy more efficiently. When possible, push the snow in front of you, rather than lifting and twisting. Be sure to always bend at the hips and lift with your core muscles instead of just your back and arms. Finally, keep your loads light and alternate shoveling between arms. Having good form will remove some of the stress put on your back, spine and arms.
It’s cold outside and all you want to do is get the driveway shoveled and back inside your warm home. But go at your own pace. It is recommended that you shovel a small area, then give your body some time to rest before moving on to the next section. During breaks, stretch your muscles again and keep moving, so that you don’t tense up.
“It is extremely important to take your time and not to overdo it,” said Dr. Kuntz. “When there’s a big job ahead of you, take frequent breaks and remember to use proper technique to minimize your chances of injury."
If you feel soreness, pain or strain despite following these tips, it might be time to hand the shovel off to an ambitious or helpful young neighbor.
Highly skilled and highly specialized, Penn Orthopaedic physicians treat each injury – including those resulting from shoveling snow – with a personalized approach.