Practice Safe…Snow Removal

In Wisconsin (and many other states), it can feel like a daunting task to clear snow from driveways, cars and sidewalks.  Here are a few tips to ensure you are protecting your joints and muscles while most efficiently clearing snow!

              1. Warm up first.  Don’t be in too big of a hurry to get outdoors.  Young or old, it never hurts to take time to warm up inside.  A few simple exercises or stretches can help loosen up stiff muscles before heading out into the cold.  Even Yoga postures or a general warm-up would be just fine.
              2. Use tools that fit you.   Not all shovels are made the same.  A 5’1” person should not be using the same shovel as a 6’7” person.  There are ergonomic shovels on the market that do a fantastic job of decreasing the lever arm and the weight on the end of a shovel.  This places less strain on your spine, shoulder and muscles.  If you are using a snow blower and you are tall, there are extensions to the handles that will prevent you from stooping over and straining your back.
              3. Work smarter with your shovel.  If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times.  USE GOOD BODY MECHANICS!  Don’t move snow twice, move snow the shortest distance possible and don’t twist to toss snow.  Always have your body facing the snow you are shoveling and then turn your whole body in the direction where you are dumping the snow.
              4. Work smarter with your shovel, again. Work only within the radius of your feet.  With slightly flexed hips and knees, try to only pick up snow that is close to your feet. In the picture below, the man is using very nice shoveling form.  His knees are slightly bent and his hands are working inside the area between his feet.  Once the hands start working outside the area of the feet, this causes undue strain on the shoulder, neck and low back.
              5. Work smarter with your snow blower.  Make sure you keep your posture tall.  Keep elbows bent to 90 degrees with handles in close to your torso.  Propel forward with your pelvis/torso and NOT your arms or low back.  If something requires a bit more force, make sure to widen your feet front to back to get more leverage.
              6. Take breaks when you need them. Muscles and joints doing repetitive tasks need a break.  If you don’t listen to your body and you work through fatigue and soreness, you greatly increase your chance for using poor mechanics and ultimately injury. Even a few minutes can give your body the time it needs to recuperate before heading back to the task.
              7. Use a partner if possible.  Its always easier if you have an extra sets of hands.
              8. Listen to the weather report and plan ahead.  If you expect 10 inches of snow, it is easiest to clear away the first 5 inches and then come back later in the day for the next 5 inches.


Jessica Dufault is a licensed physical therapist, a certified athletic trainer and a co-owner of Mindful Motion Physical Therapy, LLC in Madison, Wisconsin. She earned her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Emory University in 2006. 

These are the thoughts and opinions of the author and they do not constitute medical advice.  For advice on medical issues you should always consult your local medical practitioner. 


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