Safety Tips for Winter Chores

Jack Frost has been kind to us so far this winter.  We’ve had warm temperatures and very little snow.  In our area however, most of the winter’s snow and ice comes to us in February and March.  Kids enjoy a day off of school and the snow provides beautiful scenes around town.  Unfortunately, cleaning just a few inches of snow from the sidewalk and driveway one day can leave many of us with back and shoulder pain for days or weeks.

Scott Quackenbush, PT, DPT of Amber Hill Physical Therapy of Damascus recommends the following to prevent injury when shoveling snow.  Most injuries that occur from shoveling are due to stress to unconditioned muscles.  So, first and most importantly, take care of your back all year long with exercises that strengthen your back and abdominals.  It only takes a few exercises a day to increase your strength and stability in these muscles.

Next, be sure to use the right tool for the job.  Most shovels are designed to be one size fits all, but different handle lengths can be found between various brands.  Choose a shovel with a handle long enough for you to keep your back straight while shoveling.  Bent handle shovels are best for preventing strain on the low back.  Remember to throw some salt on the walks as well to prevent slipping and falling on icy surfaces.

There’s no way around it, shoveling is exercise!  So, it’s important to warm-up beforehand by stretching the muscles in your shoulders, back and legs.  Each stretch should be done three times and held for 30 seconds each.  Stretch only until you feel slight resistance and without pain.  Do not bounce while stretching, count slowly, and remember to breathe.

  • Hold straight arm across chest with opposite hand pulling elbow in toward chest to feel stretch in the back of your shoulder.
  • Clasp hands and straighten arms while rounding shoulders and stretching forward to stretch the back of both shoulders.  Repeat with other arm.
  • Clasp hands behind back, straighten arms and stretch down and back to stretch the front of your shoulders.
  • Sit on a firm chair such as a kitchen chair with feet flat on floor and knees and hips at right angles.  Bend forward and reach for ankles until you feel a stretch in your low back.
  • Seated in chair, reach right hand across body and hold opposite thigh to rotate, look over left shoulder and stretch your back.  Repeat for opposite side placing left hand on right thigh and look over right shoulder.
  • Seated in chair, straighten one leg in front of you with heel on floor and point toes to the ceiling, bend forward and reach for toes to stretch your hamstrings.

Once you get started on clearing the snow from your sidewalk and driveway, follow this advice to protect yourself from injury.

  • Pushing snow is preferred over traditional shoveling.
  • If there is too much snow to push, do not attempt to lift large loads.
  • Bend your knees and lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Avoid twisting motions.
  • Take frequent breaks.  Setting a timer on your watch or putting one in your pocket is a good way to remind yourself to take breaks.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water on your breaks.

Remember that shoveling can also be a strain on your heart and lungs.  Even people who exercise regularly can be at risk for heart attacks when shoveling because of the combination of intense work load and freezing temperatures.  This is another good reason to follow the tips above.  If you are unsure if you should be shoveling snow because of your heart or other health concerns, you should talk to your physician.

Don’t forget about the best option for clearing snow from your walks and driveway, the neighborhood kids that want to earn a little money!  Keep a little cash tucked away for those snowy days and let them take the hard work off your hands.  Just remember they need to follow these same rules, so be sure to interrupt them with hot chocolate and make them take a break.

Even the best prevention isn’t enough sometimes and injuries still occur.  If this happens to you or someone you know, Amber Hill Physical Therapy can help.  You can consult one of our experienced physical therapists at any of our five convenient locations.  We are in-network with most insurance companies and many plans do not require a referral from your physician which can save you time and money.  If you are unsure of the referral requirements for your insurance, our office staff will obtain this information for you and notify you if a referral is required.