Don’t Let Winter Cause you Pain

Shoveling Snow and Avoiding Injury

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Sadie shovels snow at Cioffredi & Associates Physical Therapy Clinic.PREPARE YOURSELF

Warm up your muscles before starting, by moving and stretching. If this is going to be the only exercise you’ve gotten for a while, consider hiring a teenager to help. Shoveling snow is a remarkably strenuous activity! If you have access to a snow blower and can move the majority of your snow with this method first, and shovel walkways and smaller areas, this is generally more efficient. Hiring a plow service can also be a helpful way to lighten your work load especially if you are limited for time or have a medical condition that would limit your ability to comfortably shovel.

  • Dress appropriately. Wear boots with good tread (or add traction), and dress in light, water-repellant layers. Be mindful to stay warm without getting overheated.
  • Shovel many light loads, rather than fewer heavy ones.
  • Avoid twisting, and switch sides. Take a step when throwing the snow to minimize twisting, and try to avoid throwing every load in the same direction.
  • Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water.
  • Be reasonable. Don’t feel that you need to clear every flake of snow from your property.

**WARNING** Head indoors right away if you feel pain or tightness in your chest, you feel lightheaded or short of breath, your heart starts racing, or some other physical change makes you nervous. (Snow shoveling is a known trigger for heart attacks!)


Show shovels stored in a garage, so they are cold.
Store your shovel where it’s cold.
Snow sticks to a warm shovel and adds strain to the job. Tip: If you have trouble with a sticky shovel, try a light coating of cooking spray on the blade.

Clean off cars first.
Get all the snow on the ground before you start shoveling.

Make a disposal plan and be systematic.
Don’t shovel the same snow twice. Be sure you’re moving it to its final destination. Tip: You can pile snow on a plastic tarp to drag it to a more distant disposal spot if you need to, but be sure not to overload it!

Push then lift/throw
If you are shoveling snow, try to push snow on the ground using good body mechanics and pushing with your legs and forward momentum. Try to push the snow as close to your planned snow disposal location as possible, even if it is in multiple smaller pushing trips. When you have moved the snow towards the disposal location or snow bank, then squat and lift the snow.

Shovel at the right time.
Try to shovel the majority of your snow at the brightest/warmest time of day so that you not only have the best visibility, but additionally to allow the natural sunlight to help melt any remaining snow. Be aware of changing temperatures so that you can avoid moving a large accumulation of heavy wet snow, or after it has become packed and icy from foot traffic. Tip: If you do need to clear packed or icy snow, chose a shovel with a metal blade.


Illustration of different types of snow shovels.


Handle Length
Taller people should look for a longer handle to avoid excessive bending. Shorter people will not get good leverage with a long-handled shovel, and so should choose a shorter handle style.

Blade Size
The larger the shovel blade, the heavier it will be when you fill it. If you have concerns about your strength or balance, or fear aggravating an injury, choose a shovel with a smaller blade.

Handles and blades come in a variety of materials from wood to metal to plastic. Lighter materials may come with some disadvantages as far as sturdiness, but it may be worth the trade-off to save you the extra strain of lifting a heavy shovel.

Flat or Rounded Shovel?
Flat shovels are better at cutting through deep or dense drifts, like the ones created by a snow plow. Rounded shovels are good for scooping loose snow and allow for pushing snow along a path or sidewalk.

Best Shovel for Back Safety?

A shovel with an ergonomic handle (bent at a sharp angle) reduces the need to bend over. This design also prevents you from lifting heavy scoops which, while frustrating, is generally better for your back.

And if winter gets the better of you, we’re here to help!

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