You look out the window late at night and see the first few flakes of falling snow, dancing and twirling around a streetlamp.
“How beautiful,” you think, as you close your curtains and go to bed.
The next morning, in the harsh light of day, you wake up and take a look outside. There’s three inches of snow on the ground. Suddenly, all those “beautiful” snowflakes have piled up into a major hassle.
Shoveling snow is a winter pastime—but it’s a little riskier than you might think!
In fact, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 158,000 people went to the emergency room due to injuries suffered while shoveling or removing ice in 2015 alone. The most common injuries associated with snow and ice removal are sprains and strains, particularly in the back, shoulders, and knees.
Want to avoid an injury this winter? Here are four ways to shovel without straining your back or joints:
1.) Warm Up First
You wouldn’t run a marathon without stretching out first, would you? While shoveling a sidewalk may not be exactly the same as running 20-plus miles, it’s still a highly strenuous physical activity. And experts agree—before you head into the chill, you’ve got to warm up!
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that you “warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise” before starting to clear snow.
Dr. Shannon Thieroff agrees, explaining in a blog post:
“Your muscles won’t do you any good out there if they are cold and inflexible. Shoveling relies on cardiovascular health to provide oxygenation to muscles and tissues to perform the duty.”
She advises getting your body ready by stretching your arms across your chest, over your head, and down to your toes, and by pulling your knees up to your chest, which will loosen up your lower back and hamstrings.
2.) Pick the Right Equipment
One of the most important things you can do to make shoveling a healthier, and easier, activity is to choose the right gear.
When picking out a shovel, look for one with a small, lightweight blade. According to Spine Health, this will help “reduce the amount of weight” that you are moving at any one time, minimizing the stress on your muscles and joints. It might also help to choose a shovel that features a curved handle, or an adjustable handle length. Both of these features can help minimize the need for bending or kneeling.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to avoid the hassles of shoveling is to ditch the shovel and call in a ringer—by getting a snow blower or snow thrower! Whichever type you get, either one of these powerful devices can help you clear away snow, while also putting “a lot less stress on your back than shoveling,” according to Popular Mechanics.
3.) Use Proper Lifting Techniques
When shoveling, it’s important to use techniques that will minimize the amount of pressure you’re putting on sensitive parts of your body, like your back, your shoulders, and your knees.
Here are a few ways to clear away snow effectively and safely:
- Whenever possible, use the shovel to push the snow off to one side, rather than lifting it
- When you need to lift snow, keep the load as light as possible
- Square your shoulders and hips in the same direction, and always turn with your full body, rather than twisting your back or hips
- Bend at the knees and hips, rather than the lower back
- Walk snow to an area before dumping it, instead of tossing it over a distance, which can overextend your arms and spine
- Never throw snow over your shoulder
- Brace your core by engaging your abs, instead of letting your back do all the work
4.) Take It Easy
Know your limits and don’t push yourself too hard! Experts recommend that you pace yourself, and do everything in stages.
For example, Dr. Joseph Abboud, an orthopaedic surgeon, suggests taking on snow “in a gradual fashion;” he advises that you shovel periodically, going out at intervals such as every three to four hours.
If you get started early on, when snow is just starting to gather on the ground, you’ll also have an advantage—the snow will be lighter and fluffier! This type of powder is a lot easier to clear than the packed down, heavy snow that can accumulate as storms go on.
Once a lot of snow has fallen, consider handling it in stages; tackle the lighter, smaller piles first, and consider skimming off a few inches at a time, rather than trying to move the entire depth of snow at once. You’ll also want to avoid going too fast! As Dr. Schubbe suggests for Spine Health, you’ll want to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground at all times, to help lessen the risk of a dangerous slip or fall.
And whenever you go out to tackle the white stuff, be sure to take plenty of breaks, stay hydrated by drinking water, and dress in plenty of warm layers. Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of the snow!
Now Matt Peebles of the Enrollment Specialists would like to hear from you! What are your favorite winter health hacks? Do you have any tips for shoveling without the strain? Be sure to let us know in the comments, or by sounding off on Facebook or Twitter.
One other thing to keep in mind? Getting snowed in is a great chance to take stock of everything—including your health and life insurance plans! If you have any questions or concerns about your portfolio, the Enrollment Specialists would be happy to help set you on the right (snow-free) path!