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8 Tips For Shoveling Snow The Right Way


Amarillo chiropractor and orthopedic specialist shows you how

It's that time of year when we start to get the white stuff gathering on the walkways and driveways. Of course, that means we have to get out in it and get it cleared off so life can resume. Shoveling snow is a very physical activity and not all of us are regularly involved in activities with exercise as part of the menu. This makes it all the more important to make sure that snow clearing is done correctly with the right focus placed on not injuring oneself. 

For that reason, I have 8 Tips for shoveling snow the right way so that hopefully, we can avoid injuries, get the snow cleared properly, and get on with our lives pain-free. 

1. Warm-up

Warm-up bit before working. Just like an athlete warms up and stretches before their event, so should someone heading into the cold weather warm-up and stretch a bit. It is important to understand that cold muscles strain easier so warming them up a bit will give you a certain amount of protection against a common, simple sprain or strain of your back. 

2. If you have pain - STOP

If the pain begins in the middle of clearing snow, there is no way of knowing what is causing the pain. There is also no way of knowing if continuing the work that started the pain will worsen the issue. It is important to understand that sometimes new activity can bring on a bit of 'hurt'. Most of the time that is OK since 'hurt' does not mean 'harm'. However, if the pain starts that feels somewhat significant and ultimately 'harmful', it is important to stop immediately. If the pain does not subside, pay a visit to your local evidence-based, patient-centered chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. 

3. The right shovel matters - Picking out the right snow shovel is key to protecting yourself

    • Curved handle - Pick a snow shovel with a curved handle. A curved handle shovel lets you have a straight back since you do not have to bend over much at all to get under the snow. 
    • No long handles - Shorter handles allow for keeping the load closer to the body. Keeping the load closer to the body allows more control of the load. More control of the load lessens the risk of getting off balance or any unexpected forces acting on the low back. 
    • Plastic shovels are lighter- This one is self-explanatory. The lighter you can make your workload, the less risk you are at of injuring yourself.
    • Smaller blades can keep you from loading too much - This one is especially important for men as we tend to be most interested in getting the job done as quickly as possible which means bigger and heavier loads of snow in each shovel. Water is significantly heavier than a lot of other materials we may lift in a shovel. Keeping the load lighter can be helpful. It is the same idea for those on a diet. Using smaller plates means eating less food. Using a smaller shovel means keeping the load lighter and safer.

4. Discs are a bit fatter in the mornings

The discs that act as shock absorbers in our spines grow a bit through the night. They uptake water essentially. That means that in the mornings, they are a bit 'fatter' for lack of a better word. As we get up out of bed and get vertical and on our feet, we are now weight-bearing. Weight-bearing and gravity act on the discs to 'flatten' them out a touch until they get to the size they normally are throughout the day. This means that discs can be more at risk of injuring in the morning. Certainly, if a person is not using good biomechanics and proper form when going about their activities. This all means that it is important to get up extra early if you will be shoveling snow in the morning. Try to be on your feet at least an hour and a half or so before going out to shovel. This will give your low back discs a good chance of reaching their regular, daily thickness and should lessen the risk of disc injury.

5. Push the snow rather than lift it

There will be times you have no choice but to lift snow in the shovel. However, when possible, you should push the snow along the walkway or driveway pushing it into a pile on the side. Any time we can minimize lifting, we are reducing the risk of injury.

6. Grip the shovel correctly.

Gripping the shovel with hands 12 inches apart will help with leverage and strength. Gripping the snow shovel in this manner gives you a good base to work with. A strong base will allow for more control and more control means less unexpected forces. Having one's hands too close together means little control. Have one's hands too far apart just does not feel natural. But, a foot apart is comfortable and perfect for working a snow shovel. 

7. If you must lift, do it correctly

    • Squat with legs shoulder-width apart.
    • Knees bent - Keeping your knees bent helps ensure you are not using your back to do the lifting. 
    • Back straight - Pretend you have a long fluorescent light bulb taped to your back and your job is to not break it. Your low back likes to be straight, stiff, and in a neutral position. Not bent forward at the back or the waist. 
    • Brace appropriately for the load - You would brace differently to deadlift 400lbs than you would brace to lift a suitcase. Brace the abdomen appropriately for the load each time you are about to lift snow in the shovel. It is more than snow in a shovel. It is a load and should be seen as such. Bracing appropriately will provide support for your low back and reduce the risk of injury. 
    • Lift with the legs - Do NOT lift with your back. Remember, your back is to be kept straight. If your back is kept straight, then you have no choice but to use your legs to do the lifting. This is a key concept in lifting so make sure you understand it. 
    • Do NOT bend at the waist - At the risk of being repetitive, keep your low back straight!!
    • Keep the load close to the body and walk to where to want to dump it rather than throwing it. This will avoid unexpected forces on the low back and overreaching while carrying a load. 
    • Nose with your toes - Recall that your low back likes straight, stiff, and neutral positioning. It does not like rotation or twisting when you are carrying a load. For this reason, lifting and twisting is a big no-no. Keep your nose with your toes at all times when carrying. Rather than lifting and twisting to toss the load, lift and then turn the whole body so that the nose stays with the toes. Then walk to the point of unloading it. 

8. Don’t throw snow over your shoulder

In keeping with the concept of keeping your nose with your toes and eliminating any twisting or rotation at the waist while carrying a load, do not throw snow over your shoulder. Again, throwing snow over your shoulder may speed up the process a tick but it will significantly place you at more risk of injury. Slow down and keep the nose with the toes. 

Nobody enjoys snow removal. However, if you slow down and think about your movements before you actually make them, these 8 Tips can go a long way toward keeping you healthy and pain-free through the process. 

If you should somehow injure yourself though, make sure you call your local evidence-based, patient-centered Amarillo chiropractor so we can get you back on your feet as quickly as possible. 

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Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast (http://www.chiropracticforward.com). Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected] about Dr. Williams and his practice at https://www.amarillochiropractor.com.

Dr. Williams was voted Best Chiropractor In Amarillo in the Best of Amarillo 2020. Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109. If you are searching for a chiropractor near me, Dr. Williams is your Amarillo Chiropractor.