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A Minnesotan's Guide to Safe Shoveling


A Minnesotan’s Guide to Safe Shoveling

With plenty of snow yet ahead in 2019, Minnesotans must balance the beautiful seasonal landscape with the inevitable shoveling of snow.  Clearing sidewalks and driveways of snow can often require a lot of time and effort.  While shoveling can be a great workout, heading out to clear snow without proper preparation, equipment or biomechanics can lead to injury.  According to a 2007 study in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine that evaluated shovel-related injuries and emergencies in the U.S., the most common mechanism of injury (53.9 percent) was due to acute musculoskeletal exertion (a.k.a. exercise injury) and the second most common mechanism of injury (20 percent) was due to slips and falls.  Here are some common tips to help stay safe while shoveling this winter.

Preparation.  One of the best ways to prevent a shoveling incident is to start with the proper equipment:

  • Shovel – The ideal shovel should stand about chest high.  This will allow for a straight back while shoveling and prevent excess stress and strain on the lower back.  Wider shovels are best used for pushing snow while narrow shovels will keep loads more manageable when carrying snow.
  • Salt – When there is a winter storm on the way, lay plenty of salt along walkways to prevent icy patches that could cause trouble while shoveling.  Slick spots increase the chance of a slip and fall that may lead to more serious injuries.
  • Warm up – Prepare to take on the snow by stretching, going for a short walk or marching in place to warm up.  This is particularly important when shoveling first thin in the morning when joints tend to be stiffer and temperatures cooler.
  • Bundle up – Wear plenty of layers when heading outside to protect from frostbite and keep muscles warm and flexible.

Execution.  Utilizing proper biomechanics will allow for both efficient and safe shoveling this winter:

  • Start early – The best time to begin shoveling is before snow has had a chance to pile up.  Shoveling a few inches of snow at a time will prevent heavy loads by avoiding dense, compacted snow.  If multiple inches have piled up, try skimming the stop few inches off first then working down through the snow in layers.
  • Push – Push snow as far as possible before scooping.  This will not only decrease stress and strain on the spine, it will also reduce occurrence of throwing heavy scoops of snow that could lead to injury.
  • Lifting – The best form for lifting snow involves maintaining a straight back and bending with the knees.  While scooping snow, have one hand on the handle and the other near the scoop; start with one leg in front of the other, bend at the knees, scoop, and then stand.  Avoid any twist of the torso by walking snow to pile it up rather than throwing it.  Alternating which foot is forward for lifting snow will help maintain a more balanced workout.
  • Breathe – Improper breathing while shoveling can create excess tension throughout the body.  To maintain adequate amounts of oxygen and blood flowing, go slow and take breaks when needed.

Secret Weapon.  Regular chiropractic care helps to maintain proper motion throughout the spine.  Ensuring adequate motion of each of the spinal bones will avoid excess stress and strain that could lead to future injuries.  If a shoveling injury does occur, be sure to stop in to see a chiropractor sooner rather than later to ensure proper correction.

Remember, not everyone is physically fit enough for shoveling.  Individuals should consult their primary care physician prior to shoveling snow.  Stop shoveling if you experience symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath or tightness in chest, neck, arms or back, and call 911.


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