Simple steps to avoid injury while shoveling snow

‘Tis the season for, glistening icicles hanging from bare tree branches and hot cocoa by the fire. Unfortunately, it’s also the season of shoveling snow and slippery ice that seems to sneak up on you.

For Jaime McCarthy, a physical therapist at OSF Rehabilitation in Escanaba, Michigan, ‘tis the season when she sees a lot of people with back, shoulder and hip injuries suffered either from slips and falls on the ice or from shoveling snow.

While some people probably wish they could just hunker down in their warm homes and hibernate until spring, for most of us, this isn’t realistic. We have to brave the cold, and we have to shovel our driveways and sidewalks.

Here are some tips to help you prevent your winter wonderland from becoming a painful nightmare.

Be prepared

Try to maintain your activity level prior to shoveling to keep your body stronger. At minimum try to at least do a walking program and regular gentle stretching. This will help keep you stronger and improve your balance, said McCarthy.

If you have any heart problems, check with your doctor first to make sure you can safely handle the physical exertion.

“Any of us here at OSF Rehabilitation are more than happy to help you with stretching and strength prior to these activities to help prevent injuries,” McCarthy said. “If you do have an injury we’re happy to help, too.”

Shovel safely

When it comes time to shovel, McCarthy offers some tips to keep yourself safe.

  • Try not to twist. Pick up your feet and turn instead of twisting and heaving snow to the side
  • Drink plenty of water. While shoveling, you get dehydrated, overheated and overworked.
  • Be aware of ice. Wear shoes with good soles or grippers and put salt on any icy surfaces and steps.
  • Don’t rush. If you know you need to be somewhere by a certain time, make sure you leave enough time to clear your driveway beforehand.
  • Tackle it in shifts. If there’s a big snow storm, try shoveling in multiple bouts. It may mean more time spent shoveling, but you’re moving less snow volume and weight at one time, which is a safer approach.

As for snow blowers, they come with their own set of risks. Thousands of people are injured using snow blowers every year, so watch that you’re not jerking the pull cord too sharply or twisting your body, and never reach into the snow blower.

Last Updated: January 12, 2022

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Bone & Joint, Physical Therapy