Shoveling Injuries

By: Dr. Ryan Chevrier, PT, DPT

Winter has arrived, which means snow is here as well. For those without a snowblower or plow, it is important to make sure you shovel appropriately to avoid injury. Common injuries include lower back, shoulder, head injuries and heart attacks. Over 25,000 people are treated in emergency rooms each year for shoveling injuries. Understanding some of these injuries and tips to help prevent them are important to make sure you do not become another number in this statistic.

Lower back injuries are common when it comes to shoveling snow. They are usually caused by excessive twisting and bending when clearing snow. It’s important to not try and throw snow over your shoulder or behind you to avoid excessive twisting. Twisting itself will not cause injury, but repetitive twisting under load while clearing your entire driveway will start to wear you down over time. Try to keep snow clearing in front of you and clear in a straight path. You can also try pushing the snow if there is not too much on the ground and you have space to move it to.

Shoulder injuries are also common with shoveling. Many people try to lift too much snow at once and throw it far, which can place excessive load on your shoulders after many repetitions. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so there is no reason to feel the need to throw as much snow as possible with every shovelful. With large amounts of snow, start at the top and work your way down to decrease the overall weight you are clearing. Don’t be afraid to take breaks along the way as well. This will allow your shoulders to relax for a couple of minutes before having to work again.

Head injuries can be caused by being hit by a shovel or slipping on ice.  Everyone who goes outside to shovel snow should take precautions to make sure that no one else is in the area where they are shoveling. Additionally, wearing appropriate footwear and putting sand or salt down can help prevent slipping on ice. If someone hits their head, either by a fall or by being hit, then they should seek medical attention to be evaluated for a concussion.  

One of the more serious shoveling injuries are heart attacks. Shoveling snow can be very intensive work and adding the extreme cold temperatures increases the chances of having a heart attack. Those in poor cardiovascular shape should take extra precautions when shoveling snow. Ease your way into shoveling to help bring your heart rate up slowly. Then when you have completed all your shoveling, it is best to walk for several minutes to help lower your heart rate safely. Use this time to admire your clean driveway.

Although most people don’t want to spend extra time in the cold, don’t rush with shoveling, make sure to take breaks as needed, utilize proper shoveling techniques and outdoor footwear, and ease into it so as not to increase your heart rate too quickly. Following these simple tips will help reduce the risk of shoveling injuries.  An extra five minutes without pain in the cold is much better than five hours with pain in a warm house. If you think you may have a shoveling related injury, or want to make sure your body and heart are prepared for the demands of shoveling, it is best to see you local physical therapist, physician, or qualified healthcare professional.

Dr. Ryan Chevrier is the Physical Therapist for ProClinix Sports Physical Therapy & Chiropractic in our Pleasantville office.

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