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Your Guide to Safe Snow Removal

Before shoveling, should I stretch?

Before shoveling snow, one of the most important things you can do is give your body a chance to warm up. A warm muscle moves and functions better than a cold one.  A warm up can be a challenge, especially on those cold winter mornings, but I suggest making sure you take 5-10 minutes to get moving before you do any heavy shoveling.  This could be as easy as going up and down the stairs in your home several times or if possible, walking around the block in your neighborhood.  Once your body is warm and your joints have felt some movement, you should be good to begin shoveling with a lower risk for injury.  

What are the proper lifting techniques when shoveling?

The most important lifting advice for staying safe while shoveling snow is to avoid rotation (where your shoulders and arms twist, but your hips and feet stay relatively stationary).  One way to avoid too much rotation is to push the snow on the ground as close to where you want to throw it as possible.  This will mean you have to throw the snow less distance, and likely have less rotation.  Another way to decrease risk of injury is to take smaller loads with your shovel.  This may mean you are little bit slower, but if it keeps you from injuring yourself, it will be worth it!

Are there certain shovels that are better to shovel with? 

There are a variety of different shovels on the market.  Determining which shovel works for you is largely about your preference and how much snow you have to shovel.  For large driveways/walkways I like to suggest a shovel that is a little bit heavier and good at pushing the snow.  This will mean less throwing snow and less loads to heave.  For smaller driveways, or maybe just a sidewalk, lighter shovels that are easy to lift usually work best.  Keep in mind, any shovel can be safe if you use safe lifting techniques and give your body a chance to warm up before you start.  

The number one tip…

Get out and shovel often!  If at all possible, don’t let snow accumulate to 12 inches before starting.  You might feel like you are fighting a losing battle as you are shoveling while it is snowing, but nobody likes to shovel 12 inches of heavy snow. It is with heavy, deep snow that I see the most injuries, not 1-2 inch snow.  Be proactive!

Luke VanderZouwen, DPT

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