The snowstorm we just experienced, that went into the wee hours of this morning left us with about 12 inches of snow. That was bad enough but the county came through and did their favorite chore; piling up a huge amount of snow that blocks each driveway. Knowing that we were going to have to get out there and try to clear both the driveway and the county created mountain of snow reminded me how easy it is to hurt oneself in winter.
Snow shoveling is probably the most common cause of injury in winter months. The following tips may help you avoid adding injury to insult if you need to shovel.
Warm up before you shovel. Just like any other physical activity shoveling requires a little warm up. Warm, loose muscles aren’t prone to injury as much as cold, tight ones. Marching in place, jumping jacks, and other full body activities will help warm up those tight muscles. Stretching your low back and hamstrings (the big muscles in the back of the thigh) will also help prevent injury. But make sure you do gently stretching. No use injuring yourself before you even put on your coat! Give yourself a 30 – 60 second hug to loosen up and stretch your arms and shoulders.
Pick an ergonomic shovel. Look for one with a curved handle or an adjustable length handle. This helps minimize bending. They also help keep you in a better position – knees slightly bent and back slightly arched. Use a small, plastic blade shovel. These are more lightweight so you’re not adding a heavy shovel to the weight of the heavy snow.
Use ergonomic techniques. If possible just push the snow to the side rather than lifting it. If you must lift the shovel make sure your shoulders and hips are squarely facing the shovel. Bend at the hips, not the lower back. Push your chest out, pointing forward. Bend with your knees and lift with your legs. Keep your back straight. Do not overload the shovel! You won’t finish shoveling faster if you injure yourself!
When you’re clearing the shovel of snow don’t twist your back. Turn your entire body in the direction you are dumping the snow. Don’t extend your arms to throw the snow. Keep the heaviest part of the shovel close to your body. You’re far less likely to injure yourself if you walk to where you’re dropping the snow than trying to throw it there.
Break up the job. You’ll be less likely to hurt yourself if you break up the job instead of trying to do it all in one session. If the snow is really deep (like if you had a snowstorm last night) try taking a few inches off the top of the snow instead of trying to get through all of it at once. Take frequent breaks (about every 10 – 15 minutes) even if only for a few minutes. Stretch your back, legs, arms, and shoulders during these breaks to stay flexible.
Take precautions to avoid falls. Wear boots or shoes with good treads to help keep your grip on slippery surfaces. Spread something to increase traction; sand, kitty litter, or salt are good items to use. Falls can be very serious! Broken bones, lacerations, and even traumatic brain injuries occur from winter time falls!
If you don’t have to go out in conditions that make a fall likely don’t go! Plan ahead. Go out before any inclement weather or wait to go out until sidewalks and roads are cleared.
Allow yourself extra time. If you’re rushing you increase the chance you’ll fall on slippery sidewalks, parking lots, or even inside buildings depending on the flooring!
Find the best path. If there is a road that may take you longer but is cleared first, use it to get to your destination. If the walkway you usually take to get into a building is icy look for one that has been cleared or where the sun has melted ice and snow.
Speak up. If walkways, parking lots, and sidewalks aren’t safe you need to notify the person in charge of maintenance!
Be aware of the conditions. Pay attention to what you’re walking on. You may be able to avoid ice if you’re aware of it!
Change the way you walk. Take short steps when walking on slippery surfaces. Shuffle a bit and curl your toes under. Walking flatfooted helps avoid falls. Basically, walk like a penguin. You almost never see a penguin in a cast from falling on ice!
When enjoying winter sports. Warm up your cold, tight muscles first. Do a few light exercises and stretching. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds minimum.
If you’re skiing make your first run a warm up run before moving to difficult slopes. Better a quick trip down the bunny slope than a long ride in an ambulance!
Know the terrain. Whether you’re skiing, hiking, or doing other outdoor winter activities it’s vital you know the terrain. You need to know where rocks, trees, open water, and places where ice is likely to form are so you can avoid them. When hiking always stay on marked trails.
Don’t participate in winter sports (or even shoveling the driveway) if you are very sore or overtired. You’re more prone to injury if you’re not rested and feeling strong.
You may not love winter but, if you follow this advice, you’re less likely to end up with any common winter injuries!