Shoveling snow without saying “Oh No”

Shoveling snow

JANUARY 2016 – Many people injure themselves shoveling snow.  Injuries occur from slips, falls and even repetitive lifting.

Pain in the arms, shoulders and back are quite common due to improper form. 

So as you get bundled up to attack the driveway packed with snow, keep these tips in mind when shoveling snow.

Dress appropriately: Dress warm but in clothes that don’t limit your movement.  Be sure to wear sturdy, non-slip boots.  If you don’t have a pair, consider “snow tires” for your feet. The company YakTrax makes a simple device that slips over your shoes to give you traction on slippery surfaces. You should be able to find these in most outdoor and sporting goods stores, or online.

Lift with the knees and hips, not the back: I know you’ve heard this a thousand times but it bears repeating. If your legs do the work, then your back doesn’t have to strain. It’s okay to lean forward if you need to, just keep your back straight and hinge at the hips. Engage your abdominal muscles to add some active protection. When it comes time to lift that snow straighten up with the knees and hips, not the back.

Don’t be a hero: Don’t shovel a large snow fall at one time. There won’t be an awards ceremony and you won’t make SportsCenter’s Top Ten for your accomplishments. So when the weathermen predict significant accumulations, shovel the driveway multiple times, only taking a few inches off each time. Take breaks if you need to.  These breaks will help you recover before you sustain an overuse injury so you can get the same amount done with less injury risk.

No twisting the night away: Always throw the snow directly in front when you can. Twisting to throw snow to the side or behind you can only lead to increased stress on your spine and your shoulders. If you do need to move snow to the side, contract your abdominals and pick your feet to pivot so that you do not twist your back.

Don’t set any distance records either: All you have to do is get the snow off of the driveway or the sidewalk. There is no need to toss the snow as far as you can.

Don’t make shoveling your only exercise this winter: Many people injure themselves shoveling snow because they’re completely inactive the rest of the winter. Their bodies just are not ready for the sudden demands of shoveling snow. So keep working out this winter and when Snowmagadden does hit, you’ll be ready.

Don’t shovel if you aren’t ready for it: On a serious note, many people do sustain significant injuries when shoveling. More concerning, every year many people have heart attacks trying to clean snow from the pavement. So please, if you have a heart condition or you know your body is not ready for it, hire someone to help you.
Hopefully, these tips will keep you out of pain. If you do find yourself hurting, promptly call your physical therapist.

Article by Scott Moreland, DPT. Scott is a physical therapist and movement specialist at CORE Strategies Physical Therapy, Sport Performance & Medical Fitness in Overland Park. The CORE team specializes in rehabilitation and performance training for clients of all ages and activity levels.  To learn more about CORE’s sport specific programs visit  Contact Scott at

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