It feels like we are getting off easy so far this winter. We’ve barely had to shovel since the New Year. But as a real New Englander, I just presume that means we will have to suffer before winter is out. (She said half in jest all in earnest.) Just in case, here are some tips for shovel safety:
Know the Risks for Shovel Safety
The most common shoveling injury is strained muscles and tendons (usually in the low back). That’s actually a good thing. Because when soft tissue is the problem, more often that not we can change what we are doing to reduce the risk of injury.
Slips and falls are the second leading cause of shoveling injury. So make sure you have good footwear. Consider grips you can put on your boots when it’s icy and make ensure you can balance where you are shoveling
Apparently, a surprising number of people get hit with other shovels while shoveling, so be aware of your surroundings.
Finally, heart attack is always a concern. Make sure you aren’t getting too winded. If you can’t maintain a conversation while you shovel, you might be exerting yourself too hard and straining you heart. That’s the time to slow down, take a break, or ask for help.
Best Ideas for Shovel Safety
Remember to pace yourself. If you come out too strong, you might fatigue quickly. It’s that fatigue that puts muscles at greater risk of injury. Slow down. Taking little breaks will also allow you to take deep breaths and get oxygen to the muscles. Sip some water to keep your whole body hydrated.
Use different techniques and different tools. Like fatigue, repetitive motion is the bodies enemy. Too much of the same move is more likely to create injury. Try shoveling on different sides. Consider pushing the snow instead of lifting it. Sometimes lift the snow, walk, and dump it where you want rather than toss it from where you picked it up. You might find different shovels feel better with different techniques, so change your shovels up too.
Never round your back. When you round the low back to bend over and pick up the snow, the muscles of the low back are stretched long and put in a weakened position. Make sure your shovel is tall enough that you don’t have to bend over to scoop of the snow. If your shovel isn’t the right size for you, chances are you will end up rounding the back. You could squat and lift from the legs, but that requires knees that feel okay squatting for prolonged periods.
Rounding and twisting!?!? That’s just asking for pain. Unless you have an injury, you should be able to twist your spine side-to-side without risk of injury. But when you are rounded forward, holding heavy snow and twisting…now that’s a different story. Make sure you stand upright and neutral in the pelvis and low back if you are going to twist while you shovel.
Shovels Are Not Created Equal
There is very little research showing whether a straight handled shovel or a bent shovel is more ergonomic. We assume the bent one, but the debate is out. A very small study out of Canada (they get a lot of snow so they should know, right?) found that the bent handle shovel reduced load on the back when lifting the snow by 16 percent. But bent shovels may not be the better for tossing or pushing snow. Every body is different. Experiment with which shovel works best for you and does not require you to round.
Also, getting a smaller shovel (not shorter) might slow down the process, but it will create a forced pacing and ensure you lift lighter loads. If you know you push yourself too hard, buy a smaller shovel.
A dynamic warm up would be useful before embarking on a driveway covered in snow. Dynamic means you don’t hold a static stretch. Try big arm circles, marching in pace, circling your hips. Any time you need a break, you can stop and do some moves that provide relief in your body.
Recently, when I was on NBC CT Live to talk about shovel safety Jimmy and Jason (a crew member behind the scenes) were talking about how much a good playlist can help pass the time. That’s true. Get some good tunes or turn on your favorite podcast…just make sure you keep aware of your surrounding so you don’t wind up one of the people in the ER because you got hit by a shovel!
In addition to shovel safety, enjoy being outside and seeing your neighbors while you’re out in the brisk air!
Thank you for giving your time to stop and read my blog. I hope it encourages you to keep moving. Move and the body will be happier. And when you're moving you can hike, run, swim in Jell-O, race over non-Newtonian fluids, travel the world or build igloos--if that's your thing. If not, you can watch me do it. This is just a spot to try and feel good about life.