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Get a handle on safe shoveling

Posted December 17, 2014 in Advice Column, Downtown


With winter well upon us, many people recognize that clearing your sidewalks and driveways of snow can be good exercise. It can also be a repetitive activity that can cause muscle strain to the lower back and shoulders and put stress on your heart. When the next snowfall hits, follow these tips to get a handle on safe shoveling.


  1. Choose the right shovel. Use a shovel with a shaft long enough to let you keep your back straight while lifting. The proper length allows for your knees and hips to be slightly bent. When you grip the shovel, make sure your hands are at least 12 inches apart to increase your leverage and reduce the strain on your body.
  2. Dress appropriately. The hands, feet, nose and ears need extra protection during the cold winter. Wear a turtleneck sweater, cap, scarf, face protection, mittens, wool socks and waterproof boots to keep warm.
  3. Warm up! Get your muscles warmed up before you start shoveling. Cold, tight muscles are more likely to sprain or strain than warm, relaxed muscles.
  4. Change your technique. Push the snow instead of lifting it to decrease the strain on your back or lift smaller loads of snow. Wet snow can be very heavy and one shovel-full may weigh as much as 25 pounds.
  5. If you must lift the snow, do it correctly! Lifting should occur with the legs – like a squat, with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Bend at the hip, and not at your back. Scoop a small amount of snow into the shovel and hold the load close to your body to decrease the strain on your back. Walk to where you want to dump the snow rather than twisting to throw it over your shoulder.
  6. Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks, especially if you run out of breath. Stand up straight, walk around or do a bending exercise by placing your hands on the back of your hips and leaning backwards for a few seconds to help reverse the excessive forward bending. If you feel tightness in your chest or experience pain anywhere, stop shoveling and seek assistance.


An Iowa winter can be brutal. If constantly shoveling out of the snow is a pain, consider buying a snow blower. It will put far less strain on your back!


Information provided by Kari Smith, a physical therapist and clinic manager at Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic. She is boardcertified in biofeedback and pelvic muscle dysfunction.

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