A pleasant winter wonderland with a blanket of snow fluttering down is a scene from many of our dreams. Unfortunately, winter may not be all cozy times. For almost 30,000 people, it’s when they end up in the emergency room from shoveling related injuries—often back related—each year. After the allure of freshly fallen snow has faded, it’s time to clear the drive and walkways.
Shoveling is a necessary part of any area that experiences snowfall and with it, injuries. Many of us approach it as a chore to hurry through, often early when we wake up but a little more care may help prevent catastrophe. Winter can be difficult since it adds stress to the heart and muscles and extra caution should be taken if going out in the early morning. The inactivity from sleeping can leave discs in the spine swollen and muscles tight leaving a person susceptible to injury. Stimulants should also be avoided before shoveling since it can constrict veins and cause unnecessary stress on the body. Ideally, a regular workout regime throughout the year will help keep the body in shape when it comes time for shoveling. Before starting, a small warm-up will help stave off injuries as well.
Before heading outside, wear appropriate clothing. Many thin layers are better at keeping a person warm than one thick layer. Proper boots will keep you grounded and safer from falling. If it’s icy, be sure to put out salt too, as slipping is another major cause of injury in the wintertime. Don’t forget the accouterments that go along with cold weather—keep those hands and ears warm! It may seem excessive but the little things can make a difference in protection.
Like any workout, and a good shoveling session definitely counts as a workout, there is proper form to consider. It’s best to keep legs about shoulder-width apart with a slight bend. Keep hands wide apart for good leverage and opt for small shovel-fulls. Fresh snow is light but after compaction and if it gets wet, snow gets heavy very fast. Consider pushing the snow instead of throwing it and do not twist your body by any means. Take frequent breaks while shoveling, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If at any point you feel pain, stop immediately you do not want to worsen any potential injury.
After the hard work of shoveling, soreness is bound to set in. Epsom salt baths and foam rolling can give your muscles some much-needed relief. Healthy meals will provide needed sustenance for the energy used and recovery required. If you’re wondering if you should ice pain or apply heat, start with ice. Ice works well the first 24-48 hours and then for 20-minute intervals on the sore spots after that. After another 2 days, alternate between hot and cold treatments. If pain persists, consult a doctor—a small problem can develop into a larger one if ignored. Disc related injuries can cause long-term pain and may lead to surgical needs.
Snow can be fun and it can be a chore but with a little attention, injury can be avoided that allows for more fun later. Enjoy the snowy season and take some care.