Shoveling Do’s and Don’ts

Tis the season… for shoveling.  That dastardly deed that creeps up this time of year.  Without fail we have patients come in every year post shoveling with tweaks, strains, and sprains.  Caused by heavy snow and improper body mechanics, we want to prevent this from happening.  To get ahead of it, we are going over some quick things you can do to prepare yourself for the bending and twisting you’re going to face.

We have already seen a bit more than a dusting of snow this season.  A good friend of mine told me you can tell how the winter is going to be by the outermost layer of your local onion.  This little saying popped into my head as I was chopping a local onion and low and behold, that layer was THICK!  Nothing to be worried about though.  It is something we can easily prepare for.  Just make sure you get out to the store to grab your salt, shovels, and gloves.  The most important and irreplaceable tool you need is your body.  Three questions we are often asked are what am I doing wrong, why do these tweaks happen, and how do I protect myself from them? 

What Am I Doing Wrong

With a complex movement like shoveling, there are many different aspects that can go wrong.  You need to bend, twist, and lift all while holding potentially very heavy snow.  The most common things that cause injury are overusing your arms and back, bad posture, and muscling through the act. 

Overusing your arms and back couples with bad posture.  You want to use your knees and legs to help lift the heavy snow all while keeping a strong neutral spine.  Keeping the strong neutral spine means not rounding or over arching your back.  Rounding or arching your back while lifting the heavy snow and twisting can cause a lot of extra stress on the area.  Overusing your arms while you’re shoveling also leads to risk of shoulder injuries.  Your upper back, and arms get tired from taking most of the work. 

John doing a strengthening exercise for shoveling

Why Do Tweaks Happen

The action of shoveling isn’t something we do every day.  Because our bodies aren’t used to this type of action we get tired more quickly.  That coupled with a combination of flexibility issues and improper body mechanics opens us up to potential injury.  These vulnerabilities are when the tweaks happen because most of us push through the movements without taking breaks.  With tired muscles our bodies start to move less well.

Dr. John likes us to consider that there is a proper posture for everything. With that in mind, when we are shoveling you need to hold yourself in a particular way to protect your back and shoulders.  We may have the strength to muscle through poor posture while shoveling for a little while, but those muscles fatigue quickly.  Dr. John goes more in depth about proper shoveling posture in this WHMZ article

How to Protect Yourself

To keep ourselves pain free, we want to be sure we are using proper technique when shoveling that heavy snow.  As much as we want to lift and twist at the same time, it is really important to isolate the two movements.  You want to bend your knees to lift and then move the snow off to the side.  This week we pair together trunk rotations and the wood chop exercises. 

Trunk rotations are a great way to warm up your back.  It improves rotation through your entire spine.  Many people are surprised to hear this but rotation exercises are also great for your upper back which helps to add mobility into your shoulders.

The Wood Chop exercise is a great way to teach your hips and back to work together.  It strengthens the twisting motion associated with shoveling.  This can be done with or without weight.

Staying generally more mobile, stable, and fit will help reduce your risk of injury when taking on random tasks like shoveling and raking.  Continuing to continue working through mobilizing, stabilizing and strengthening your body no matter what age you are can go a long way.  If you’re looking for a way to improve your overall foundation try our MDFit Essentials class held Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!  Make sure you do these exercises to get yourself stronger and ready to take on the snow that is to come!

Looking for even more core strengthening with rotational stability?  Russian twists tackle both!  

If you find yourself in pain after shoveling, don’t hesitate to take care of yourself by making an appointment today!

Follow Us

Recent Posts

Let's keep in touch!

Receive updates when our blog, featuring the latest health and wellness information, is released along with other special events – No, we won’t send you things every day, but once or twice a week!

Dr. Chloe and John