Features February 2019 Issue

The Right Way to Shovel Snow

A few precautions can prevent aches-and injuries.

When the snow outside is piling up, you may gaze at the snow shovel with dread, fearing the aches and pains. Cleveland Clinic physical therapist Steven Pfaff, DPT, has some advice.

"For some people, shoveling snow is the first strenuous physical activity they've done in a while," he says. "Preventive measures should be taken." Everyone should be getting regular physical activity, even when it's cold outside. This will keep your body in shape when it's time to do vigorous activities. It will also help to make sure your heart is up to the task.


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When possible, push snow rather than lifting it.

The recommendation is moderate intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five days a week along with exercises to increase muscle strength and endurance on two or more days a week.

When it comes time to shovel snow, here are some tips:

- Bend your knees and hinge at your hip. Keep your back straight in a neutral position (neither rounded nor arched). You can use your back to some extent, but try to balance using your back and leg muscles.

- Lighten the load. Taking smaller scoops of snow will lengthen the task, but it's easier on your body, especially if the snow is wet and heavy.

- Keep the load close to your body, which will help your back and your shoulders.

- Push the snow rather than lifting it, if possible.

- Shovels with a bent shaft are good for pushing snow. But for lifting snow, use a shovel with a straight shaft, which will give you more torque.

- If a lot of snow is forecast, get out early when just a few inches are on the ground. You may have to shovel several times, but it will be better for your health than trying to shovel a big pile of snow all at once.

- To avoid falling on ice and snow, wear traction devices that slip over the soles of your shoes. Take shorter steps and widen your stance to increase your base of support.

You'll probably be sore after doing something strenuous like shoveling snow. "You may even be more sore two days after shoveling," says Pfaff. That's normal. But if the pain lasts for a week or more, see a doctor for an evaluation.

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