This week’s storm is the will be the fourth nor’easter this month meaning New Englanders are looking at more shoveling in March than they typically experience. As seemingly simple as it sounds, shoveling may often be accompanied by unintended consequences so it’s important to take proper precautions before venturing out.
“The combination of low temperatures and strenuous physical activity means there is an increased risk for overexertion,” said Dr. Jack Cornwell, medical director of CareWell Urgent Care. “Individuals need to know the limits of their body to help avoid potential injuries when shoveling.”
Pushing one’s body past its physical threshold often results in pulled muscles or back injuries. These injuries can cause major – and lasting – discomfort but can be avoided by stretching beforehand. It’s important to focus on the lower body, including hamstrings, calves and lower back to avoid straining these muscles.
“People don’t realize it, but shoveling is really just another form of winter exercise,” said Dr. Cornwell. “Stretching ahead of time can go a long way. It’s also critical to take your time. Trying to shovel a foot of snow in 15 minutes will wear you out, making you more likely to injure yourself. Don’t be afraid to take breaks.”
Selecting proper work attire and equipment is another simple step that can go a long way. Shovels with curved handles allow you to shovel while maintaining a straight spine and avoiding putting unnecessary strain on your lower back. Wearing boots with slip-resistant soles and a good solid grip can help avoid falling on ice, and dressing in proper layers can keep you protected from the elements.
“Your clothing should provide a mix of insulation and ventilation,” said Dr. Cornwell. “When it’s really cold, you want to make sure you’re layered properly to avoid hypothermia. But shoveling can make you sweat. If you sweat too much when it’s really cold out, it can make be difficult for your body to get warm again. That’s why clothing that provides ventilation is key.”
Finally, once you start shoveling do your back a favor and push instead of lift.
Oftentimes, people attempt to lift snow into barrels or containers to clear their walkways, but this is a quick way to a serious back injury. Instead, push snow aside into piles to avoid unnecessary strain on your back and other joints.
“If you do have to lift snow,” said Dr. Cornwell, “remember to lift with your knees. Lifting with your back is the quickest way to land yourself in an urgent care center.”
While shoveling may not be considered a favorite for winter activities, it remains a necessary part of the season. And for those who don’t have the luxury of a snow blower simple things like stretching, taking it slow, proper dress and pushing snow instead of lifting it, are worth doing to help avoid painful accidents.