How to Avoid Snow Shoveling Related Injuries

Cynthia Wilson
Written by Cynthia Wilson
Updated December 3, 2015
A shovel is a great eco-friendly way to remove snow, but be careful not to overexert yourself. (Katelin Kinney)

Each year thousands of people get injured or have a heart attack while shoveling snow. Take these precautions to lower your risk of needing emergency care.

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Snow; kids love to play in it and wish school will be canceled because of it. For many people, it doesn’t look like Christmas, unless snow covers the ground.

While snow may be soothing to look at, it can be a pain to shovel. Literally. Especially if you don’t do it correctly.

Medical professionals who spoke with Angie’s List say thousands of snow shoveling-related injuries, back spasms, and medial emergencies occur each year. Many people injure their lower back, neck or shoulder shoveling snow, says Dr. Gary Shapiro, an orthopedic spine surgeon at highly rated Illinois Bone & Joint Institute in Glenview, Illinois. “If you’re not exercising regularly be cautious, you have a higher chance of low back pain,” he says.

Related: How to Treat Injuries from Shoveling Snow

Some people also experience a heart attack while shoveling snow, says Dr. Barbra Alvir, who practices family medicine at St. Mary Mercy Medical Group in Farmington Hill, Michigan, which is affiliated with highly rated St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor. “It doesn’t seem like a lot of work,” Alvir says. “Actually, it’s a load on your heart.”

Don’t let snow mishaps limit your mobility. Follow these tips to help you conquer the winter chore.

Exericse before shoveling snow

• Alvir says to treat snow shoveling like any other exercise and warm up before you start. She recommends jogging in place for a few minutes, then stretching to loosen your muscles.

• Shapiro says people with a strong core and abdominal section have fewer injuries. He recommends exercising regularly to lessen your risk of lower back pain.

What you eat and drink before shoveling snow matters

• It won’t take long for you to feel warm after you begin shoveling snow. You may even perspire. Drink water before you begin to help prevent dehydration.

• Eat a small snack before you shovel snow, but avoid heavy meals and caffeine drinks, Alvir says. A large meal will divert blood to your abdomen and away from your muscles, which needs the energy to perform their best. Caffeine elevates your heart rate, she says.

• Don’t smoke before you shovel snow. Cold weather limits blood flow, and nicotine will make it worse, Alvir says.

Dress warm to shovel snow

• Wear snow boots to avoid slipping, a hat to prevent heat loss, and dress in layers to keep your muscles warm and lessen blood vessel constriction, Alvir says.

Use the right equipment to remove snow

• Ease your load by using a lightweight, plastic shovel, says Chrissy Dyess, a licensed physical therapist with highly rated Waukesha Memorial Hospital in Waukesha, Wisconsin. A shovel with an ergonomic handle will help you distribute the load when you lift it, while a shovel with a deep scoop is good for pushing snow out of the way instead of lifting it, she says.

Technique matters when shoveling snow

• Keep your back straight, bend at the knees, and use the strength in your hips and thighs to lift or push the snow, Alvir says.

• Don’t overload the shovel, especially if the snow is wet, Shapiro says. Wet snow is heavier and increases your risk for injuries, he says.

• Divide the area you need to shovel into smaller sections and push the snow away to reduce how often you lift the shovel, Dyess says.

• Dyess, Alvir and Shapiro agree that you should never lift and twist when you shovel snow. “Bending and twisting together, puts more load on the spine and muscles,” Dyess says. She also says you should shovel in the direction you want to locate the snow.

Protect kids from colds and injury

If your adolescent helps you remove snow, make sure he or she wears a hat and boots, she says. Teach kids how to approach and use a shovel and make sure they keep their shovel load light.

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