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Lighten your load: Safe shoveling tips.

Byline: Jen Baer, P.T.

For those who ski, snow is a fantastic piece of nature that disappears all too quickly. But for some, a snowstorm does not translate into a great day on the slopes. Rather, winter weather is an unwelcome hassle that threatens to cause injuries. Most of us relate winter injuries with slips and falls on the ice. But it may surprise you to know that improper shoveling techniques are quite commonly to blame for a number of winter injuries.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), "shoveling is a repetitive action that causes muscle strain if not performed correctly." Minor strains or sprains are among the typical shoveling injuries. However, folks with poor shoveling techniques often fall victim to more serious and complicated injuries, such as herniated discs in the lower back.

You may be thinking: "I'm young. My body can handle it. Only the elderly get hurt while shoveling."

The truth is, injuries from snow shoveling can occur at any age. And while some people only incur minor injuries that heal with a little rest, others may find that their injuries cause acute pain, loss of mobility and strength, and loss of function. These ailments can result in the need for physical therapy to both treat the injuries and more importantly, provide education on how to avoid another injury in the future.

To ensure a safe winter, below are a few important shoveling safety tips from APTA:

- If possible, wait until the afternoon to shovel. Many disc injuries occur in the morning when there is increased fluid pressure in the disc.

- Lift smaller loads of snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls. Take care to bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than with your back.

- Use a shovel with a shaft that lets you keep your back straight while lifting. A short shaft will cause you to bend more to lift the load. Using a shovel that's too long makes the weight at the end heavier.

- Because the spine cannot tolerate twisting as well as it can other movements, it is important to avoid excessive twisting and forward bending. Instead, you should bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible so you are lifting with your legs. Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow to prevent the lower back from twisting. This will help avoid the "next day back fatigue" experienced by many shovelers.

- Take frequent breaks when shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back. Standing extension exercises will help reverse the excessive forward bending that occurs while shoveling: stand straight and tall, place your hands toward the back of your hips and bend backward slightly for several seconds.

This winter has thrown quite a bit of snow at us already, and it promises more to come. Taking these precautions can save you from unwanted, uncomfortable winter injuries.

Jen Baer is the manager of Rehabilitation Services at Clinton Hospital. To make an appointment, call (978) 368-3740. A physician referral is required. Information obtained from, "Physical Therapists Offer Snow Shovelers Advice to Avoid Injuries."
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Medical condition overview
Date:Jan 29, 2008
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