Safe shoveling tips

from Ann Duffy, PT, M.A.
Duffy and Bracken — New York, NY

Safe shoveling tips

Winter’s wrath has been especially harsh this season — at one point, the only state in the continental U.S. that didn’t have snow was Florida. Many people that may be used to snow have been overwhelmed by the amount they’ve had to shovel, and many others have had to adapt to snow removal that have never had to do it before.

The snow this year has been particularly difficult to remove because it’s been wet and dense, making each shovel-full heavier than usual. Lifting these heavier piles of snow, and the frequency of the snowstorms this year, especially in the Midwest and Northeast, means more people are open to injury from improper form and technique.

 Ann Duffy, PT, M.A.To help us get through the last storms of the winter, we turned to PTPN member Ann Duffy, PT, M.A., owner of Duffy and Bracken, a physical therapy clinic in Manhattan. She gave us several tips on how to shovel snow and avoid injury.

  1. Warm up inside before you start. Stretching your muscles and warming up your body — before you go outside into the cold — will reduce the risk of muscle strain.
  2. Use your abdominals. Strong abdominals will keep the natural inward curve of your back. Bending over while shoveling makes your back vulnerable to injury.
  3. Don’t twist your body. Twisting your back to pick up or dump snow adds strain to your back. Instead, keep one foot in front of the other and always make sure that your feet face the direction in which you are picking up and dumping snow.
  4. Use your legs to lift. This will relieve some of the pressure on your back, so that the weight of the snow is supported by your entire body, not just your back.
  5. Lift loads that are manageable. Even though it may take you a little longer to shovel smaller amounts at a time, this will reduce the strain on your back. Remember, you will be moving the shovel over and over, so you don’t want to use all your strength in one lift.
  6. Take breaks. Stand up tall, place your hands on your low back and gently bend backwards 10 times. Doing this every 10-20 minutes will help you keep your back loose and reflect on your progress.
  7. Take your time! Rushing, lifting heavy loads and losing your balance can result in injuries.

Following these tips will help you keep your back healthy as you plow through the snow in your front yard and keep hoping for spring. And, if your back isn’t up to another plow through your driveway, follow the advice of Jane E. Brody at the New York Times and ask one of the kids on your block to take a crack this time. It’s better to part with a little money and keep your back healthy for the time when your yard isn’t covered in snow.

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For further reading:

Ann Duffy, PT, M.A., Duffy and Bracken, New York, New York.

Brody, Jane E. How to keep winter from taking a toll on your back. New York Times, February 8, 2011.

Masters, Maria. Why snow shoveling is a pain. Men’s Health, January 25, 2011.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.