Surviving Snow Shoveling

Surviving Snow Shoveling

With snow shoveling, specially the wet heavy stuff, comes the increased incidences of heart attacks and back injuries.

Why the Heart Attacks?

The reason for the heart attacks, while shoveling, is over stressing the heart with exertion.

The two main reasons for this are: 1- lack of physical conditioning and 2- trying to get the job done too quickly.

You need to know your limits and you need to pace yourself. However, when the snow falls, and you need to get to work, the scramble is on to move as much snow as quickly as possible. Hence, the heart attack or injured back.

Why the back injuries? 

Again, the need to know your limits and pacing yourself are paramount. There is also the need to use proper body mechanics in order to minimize strain on the back . As in every physical activity, you need to develop a balance between strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness.

So how do you survive the winter shoveling?

When the snow comes, plan your efforts. Take whatever time it takes to do the job safely. Injuring your back or suffering a heart attack is a very real possibility and not worth the risk.

Stay mindful of your body mechanics and level of exertion with every push and lift of the shovel. Use your legs and arms not your back. Push the shovel into the snow with your foot (see elf at top of page), instead of jarring your body by plunging into the snow with your arms and back. Keep a straight back while lifting with your legs. Turn by stepping with your legs to the direction in which you will throw the snow. Throw the snow straight ahead with a lunging move using arms and legs. Use your abdominal muscles to help stabilize and maintain a natural spinal position. ( click here to see article on bracing with your abs)

image showing do not throw snow overhead

 What not to do.

Along with not plunging the shovel into the snow with your arms, as mentioned above, do not  throw the snow over your shoulder.

Do not throw the snow by twisting your back to the side. Use your legs to turn toward the direction you will throw the snow, as mentioned above.

Whenever possible, push the snow out of the way without lifting. Use an ergonomically designed shovel – great for pushing without the need to bend forward, due to its long and angled handle. Use a smaller shovel with long handle for digging. It is easier to work with small bites of snow when digging. Most importantly, PACE YOURSELF and watch your level of exertion.

Yes, a snow blower makes the job very easy. However, there are always the steps and walkways where the snow blower won’t fit.

The excerpt below is repeated from my article, titled “Raking Leaves Without Wrecking Your Back”. The same holds true for Snow Shoveling.

What can you do to prevent back pain?

  1. Use proper body mechanics.
  2. Develop an appropriate balance of muscle strength, flexibility and endurance.
  3. Pace yourself.
  4. Always do some warm up exercises prior to any yard work. This helps prepare the muscles for the onslaught of work.
  5. Always stretch.

    Stretching and flexibility exercises are best done to loosen muscles that have been worked and are still warm. They may however, be incorporated in your warm up if you feel tight before starting your work.

Suggestions made in this publication are no substitute for medical advice. If you have any pain or difficulty performing the described stretches, seek advice from your appropriate health professional.

About the Author
Domenic Lopez B.Sc., LMT, ACSM CEP,  is owner and operator of Healthy Moves, a private practice where massage therapy and movement education help you achieve better living.

Learn how to Rake Leaves Without Back Pain.

drawing of man in squatting position while raking leaves


Image depicting back pain


Why does raking leaves cause back pain? Most of the time this is because you are unwittingly straining the back muscles and joints of the spine..

It doesn’t have to be that way. Using proper body mechanics when raking, as well as performing other chores around the house, can greatly reduce back pain, strain and other injuries.

The safe way to rake leaves is to let your arms and legs do the work. Do not twist your body, or sweep to the side. Sweeping to the side requires twisting of the body. This creates torsion forces on the muscles, joints and other tissues protecting the spine. These torsion forces are unnecessarily strenuous, and damaging to your spine. Keep your movements in the forward and backward direction only. read more…

How to Stretch the Hip Flexor Muscles AKA the Iliopsoas Muscles

What are the hip flexor muscles?

The hip flexor muscles are responsible for raising the thigh toward the trunk – i.e. hip flexion. They are active in stepping forward when walking or climbing stairs. They are also important in the kicking motion. This muscle group includes the Psoas Major, Psoas Minor and Iliacus muscles. They are often referred to as the Iliopsoas muscles and are generally located in the front of the lower spine, pelvis and hip. Other muscles of the thigh also assist in hip flexion.

Why stretch the hip flexors?

Tight hip flexors will limit hip extension, which means a normal walking gait is hindered. When they are tight the hip flexors will tilt the pelvis forward and place excessive stress on the spine. A forward tilting pelvis gives you an excessive arch in your low back. This excessive arching and added compression on the spine are significant contributors to poor spinal mechanics and back pain. The hip flexors are shortened when we sit. Hence, prolonged sitting causes tight hip flexors. read more…

How to Stretch the Hip Abductor Muscles

Why Stretch the hip abductor muscles?

The hip abductor muscles are the group of muscles responsible for moving the hip away from the midline of the body. These include the Gluteus muscles, which make up your buttocks. Also included in the abductor group is the priformis, which is one of four deep rotator muscles of the hip. Because of their location, these muscles play an important role in stabilizing the pelvis when standing. This is also crucial for good back mechanics. It is important to note that tight hip abductors will adversely affect your low back function and your gait (i.e. your walking and running). 

The abductors oppose the adductors (aka the groin). Balance between the two groups of muscles is essential. See How to Stretch the Groin or Adductor muscles here.

How to stretch your hip abductors. 

read more…

A Primer of Stretching Exercises: Why, what, when and how to stretch.

Stretching reduces aches and pains of daily living.

Strength training and cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise are essential to maintain the required strength and stamina for daily living. However, stretching and flexibility exercises will reduce the stress and strain on your body that happens due to the loss of flexibility suffered with aging. 

Good flexibility is desirable for optimal movement of your body parts. You improve circulation to the muscles when you decrease excessive muscle tension. More blood flow to the muscles means they receive more oxygen and nutrition. Better circulation of blood also means better waste removal. Hence, quicker removal of lactic acid and other byproducts. Reducing muscle tension and increasing circulation to the muscles also increases their suppleness. Your muscles will better absorb the shock and stress of every day movements, as well as athletic activity, when they are more supple. read more…

Stretching the Hamstring Muscles

Stretch Your Hamstring Muscles to Decrease Knee Pain and Back Pain.

The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of the thigh. The three hamstring muscles are responsible for bending at the knee or flexing the knee. Hamstring tears are often the reason you see sprinters pulling up in a race. The hamstrings attach to the part of the pelvic bone which you sit on. When tight, they can tilt the pelvis backward, flattening the lower back. This can adversely affect the mechanics of the back and pelvis, which can strain your spine and hips. Like the quadriceps, tight hamstrings are often contributing factors of low back pain as well as knee pain.

How to Stretch the Hamstring Muscles

read more…