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Safe Snow Removal Techniques

The winters in New York State can range from mild to outright brutal, with temperatures from balmy to below zero and snow falls from a dusting to multiple feet of snow at any one time.

When it comes to snow removal, I want to make sure you know the proper way to shovel it so you prevent back and shoulder injuries, the ones seen frequently after a big snow fall. The good news though is that lower back and shoulder pain can be easily prevented with mindfulness and proper body mechanics. Try these tips to keep your back pain-free.

Use the right tool for the job

What is the task to complete? Pushing, moving/lifting or ice removal. Most snow shovels consist of a handle, and a scoop. Most snow shovels are designed for either pushing snow or lifting snow, although some are crossovers which can do either job. Some snow shovel scoops have sharpened blades which can chip away and help remove sheets of ice.

Handles can be straight or bent. Straight handles make the pushing angle easier to adjust and snow throwing easier compared to a bent handle. Long handles enable the user to leverage their weight for pushing snow, but shorter handles make tossing snow easier. Plastic and fiberglass handles are lightweight, while wood handles are heavy. Metal handles will also feel colder in your hand.

A nice feature is an extra grip in the middle of the handle to assist with the snow shovel's lever action when lifting snow.

Snow shovels designed for lifting snow generally have smaller scoops than snow shovels designed for pushing snow. A typical push-type shovel scoop would be about 24 inches across with a wide, blunt blade, while a lift-type shovel scoop may be half that size. A narrower scoop makes the removal of deep, wet, or heavy snow easier. Scoops with a large curve can carry more snow, while those with a shallow curve are intended to push snow rather than carry it. Metal scoops are studier than plastic but heavier. Steel and steel-edged scoops are heavier than aluminum or plastic, but are also more durable. Although they are very good for dealing with ice, they can also damage surfaces.

It's not a bad idea to have a few snow shovels for different types of snow and tasks. If lifting is a concern, then they may choose separate shovels for lifting versus pushing. Alternately, users may wish to have a shovel for fresh light snow and another one to manage icy hard snow.

Start with some Warm-Ups

You are more prone to injury when your muscles are cold and tight. Warmed, flexible muscles will help you ease into any strenuous task.

  • Begin with a quickly paced walk for five to 10 minutes before shoveling snow to warm up your muscles.

  • Marching in place and/or bringing knees to chest at a brisk pace will help get your blood pumping.

  • Add the kicking your own bum to stretch hip flexors and warm hip extensors.

  • Warm up your arms and shoulders with a set of 10 shoulder rolls. 10 circles forward and 10 in reverse.

  • Torso Twist, stand feet shoulder-width apart. Arms bent at your sides at a 90-degree angle. Draw your belly button in towards your spine. Rotate your torso and shoulders side to side. Look in the direction and pivot your feet when you twist. Keep your head up, breathe comfortably and brace your core throughout the movement. For 10 reps.

  • Reach for your toes and then reach for the sky for 10 reps

Using Proper Lifting Technique

  • Face the pile of snow you intend to lift. Keep your body square toward the snow you’re above to pick up with the shovel.

  • Bend your knees and hips so you’re not relying on your lower back to do all the work. Lift with your leg muscles and keep your back straight to avoid stress on the muscles supporting your spine.

  • Keep each load of snow you’re lifting light.

  • When lifting a shovel full of snow, grip the shovel with one hand close to the blade and keep the other hand on the handle.

  • Avoid twisting your back when you’re moving the snow. Keep your nose over your toes and pivot your body to face the new direction in which you’re moving.

  • Keep the shovel full of snow close to your body. Do not reach out to throw the snow to a new location.

  • Walk to the new location to deposit the load of snow rather than reaching or twisting your back to toss it.

  • Take your time. Shovel small amounts of snow and take breaks rather than shoveling a large pile at one time.

  • Removing snow over a period of time will reduce the stress on your lower back and help prevent straining your arms.

  • If the snow is deep, remove only a few inches off the top at a time instead of trying to shovel the full depth at one time.

  • Take breaks every few minutes to avoid overexertion. Use your break time to stretch out your arms and shoulders and prepare for the next load of snow.

  • If you have a large amount of snow to remove, consider breaking it up into sections and take breaks throughout the day.

Keeping these tips in mind during the winter season can reduce your chances of developing a back injury or muscle strain. I hope these tips help keep your winter healthy and pain free. If all else fails and you find yourself in discomfort, please know we at the Bodyworks Wellness Center are here to help.

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