With the potential for some winter weather coming our way in Des Moines this week, I wanted to share some information and considerations to make when shoveling snow. Common issues stemming from shoveling include back pain, shoulder pain, muscular strain, and cardiac events.
How you position your body as you shovel is important for avoiding back strain. When you lift a shovel full of snow, keep your back straight, bend your knees and squat down with your legs at least shoulder width apart for a wide base of support. Carry the shovel filled with snow to where you want your snow pile. Do not throw the shovelfuls of snow over your shoulder or to the side. Something easy to remember is “move your nose, move your toes”- that means every time you turn your head, make sure you move your feet so that your body is not twisted and both your feet and face are looking straight ahead. It’s also important to keep your arms close to your body instead of outstretched when carrying shovelfuls of snow. This will not only decrease discomfort, but it will also decrease exertion and allow you to be able to lift the snow more easily and have better endurance. All of these postural corrections can reduce the stress placed on your shoulders and spine while shoveling.
Standing behind your shovel and pushing snow when you can also helps decrease stress on the body. If you have to scoop, try only lifting small amounts at a time. Lifting heavy snow can be physically taxing leading to muscular strain and an increase in blood pressure.
While it may not be common knowledge, cardiac episodes tend to increase during the winter months with shoveling. One reason for this is the colder temperatures. In a statement from the American Red Cross, it is stated “Breathing cold air can constrict the blood vessels and therefore increase the pressure, causing clots to form.” Extreme cold can cause unnecessary strain. If you do have to shovel in extreme cold, make sure to take plenty of breaks to go inside and warm your body up.
Since shoveling can be hard work, make sure that you are drinking plenty of water and that you treat it like any other physical activity with a proper warm up to get you ready to shovel and cool down with some post shoveling stretches.
If you have been shoveling and found these tips too late and are currently in pain, chiropractors are a great source of alleviation for back pain and shoulder pain. They can provide you with more recommendations based on your case. For the rest of you, stay safe and warm!