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Taking the Strain out of Shoveling

Healthy Lifestyle

Not as easy as it looks

Snow brings many risks--especially when removing it from sidewalks and driveways. Pulled muscles, strained backs or injuries from slipping all are real concerns for midwesterners. There are steps you can take to help reduce your risk of injury or even death. 

Here are some tips I recommend to my patients:

Get a good warmup. 

It’s a good idea to get the blood flowing prior to going out and scooping snow. This can be as simple as a brisk walk around the house, going up and down the stairs, marching in place, or doing some chair squats. I would recommend a total of 5-10 minutes of exercise to make sure your muscles are ready for activity. It’s also a good idea to stretch the hamstrings, back muscles and upper extremities.

Proper dress.

It’s important you wear proper gear that will keep you warm, but still allow you to move appropriately. Most importantly, you want to reduce the risk of frost bite in the fingers and toes on those cold days.

Know your snow. 

It’s a good idea to know what type of snow you will be shoveling. Is it fluffy? Is it wet and heavy? Adjust the type of shovel you use according to the type of snow outside. There are different shovels with different lengths, weights and shafts.

Proper shoveling. 

It is best to push snow if possible. This can be done using an ergonomic shovel with a curved shaft. Remember to engage your core and use your legs. If the snow is heavy, you may have to lift and throw it. If this is the case, avoid twisting and bending your back. Also, don’t throw over your shoulder. It is best to partially fill your shovel. Lift with your legs and not your back!!!

Pace yourself. 

Take your time and don’t rush things. You need to take rest breaks and also drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages to replace the fluids you will lose. Don’t work to the point of exhaustion. If at any time you feel dizzy, light headed or have chest pain, you should stop and seek appropriate medical attention. 


Chances are you may have some aches and pains when you are done. I usually tell my patients to start with ice to relieve this pain. Over the next couple of days, you can perform gentle stretching to see if this helps reduce the pain. If the discomfort does not go away, contact your primary care provider or physical therapist.

When necessary, ask for help

Living in the Midwest, chances are you are going to be responsible for shoveling several times throughout the winter months. If you don’t feel you are healthy enough to do so, ask for help from a family member, friend or neighbor. 

Don’t let shoveling set you back with an injury. If done properly, you can get a good workout in for the day and even burn a few calories along the way!

Shawn Harrahill

About the Author:

Shawn Harrahill, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist working in outpatient orthopedics, treating patients with spine, shoulder and knee pain. He incorporates manual therapy techniques to improve mobility, increase range of motion, strength and stability and decrease pain.

Harrahill sees physical therapy patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic Indian Hills

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