Ask a Tahoe Health Professional: How can I avoid injury when shoveling snow?
March 19, 2017
Question: All of the snow shoveling has taken it's toll on my back. Aches come and go afterwards and sometimes I get spasms. Is there something I should be doing differently or specific treatment I should seek?
Answer: Thank you for your question, and I'm sure with winter in Tahoe, this is an issue and a question that so many of us have. It is very important to take care of our bodies, especially when extra exertion is taking place.
First and foremost, I would invite you to explore the idea of proper body mechanics when shoveling snow. Proper body mechanics means that you are moving your body in a way that causes as little stress as possible to your joints and muscles. Snow can be heavy when lifting, and the way we shovel can cause immense stress on our bodies if we are doing it in a way that over exerts our different body parts.
When shoveling snow, have your basic movements come from your legs. Position your feet with one foot in front of the other, and allow your movements to be in a rocking motion, shifting your body weight from one foot to the other. Have your knees bent and your hips facing forward toward the shovel. By using your legs, this will take a lot of pressure off your back.
Engage in a motion similar to the movements of tai chi. This involves the leg and weight shifting motions as mentioned above, and well as arm motions that go in unison with your weight shifting movement. Extend your arms to insert the shovel into the snow as your weight shifts onto the front foot. Then, shift your weight to your back foot, as you lift the snow and toss it to the side. If the shovel is in your right hand, have your right foot forward. If you are holding the shovel with your left hand, have your left foot forward. Switch up your shoveling arms from the right to the left as often as possible to cause less strain on your body. If you can come from your legs and switch up your movements as often as possible, you're body will be much happier.
To find relief for the aches and pains that have already been caused, use heat to warm and loosen your previously tight muscles. In addition, therapeutic massage is a wonderful way to find relief for your muscles, joints, and spasms. Massage will allow your contracted muscles to relax and release tension. I would suggest a full body massage as it will be more effective in creating relief, and it will help you connect more deeply to your legs and entire body, making it easier to find rhythm with your new style of body mechanics the next time you shovel.
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— Erin Ann Barcellos
Answer: Shoveling snow can be brutal on your body, especially your back. Here are some simple tips to avoid the undue stress of shoveling snow:
Bend your knees and use your leg muscles as much as possible. Try to throw or push the snow in a straight line in front of you. Bending at the waist and twisting your spine puts your back at significant risk for injury.
Switch the shovel back and forth from the left to right side every five to 10 scoops and don't take too large of a scoop.
Just like any form of exercise, it's a good idea to do a little active warm up before shoveling. March in place for 30-60 seconds, do 10 mini squats, place your hands on your hips, and stretch your back to the sides and backwards for 30-60 seconds. — Alan Barichievich
Ask a Tahoe Health Professional is part of the Tahoe Daily Tribune's Healthy Tahoe initiative. You can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. From there questions are anonymously sent to our health professionals.