Best Way to Shovel to Avoid Injury to your Back

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Improper shoveling technique can lead to injuries like a herniated disk, pulled muscles in your shoulder or upper back, or strained lower backs due to overuse. By increasing the work load on these body parts in a very short period of time this leaves the muscles and other structures in the area (discs, nerves, ligaments, etc.) at risk for injury. Correct shoveling techniques can reduce your risk for injury.

First, warm up your muscles by walking, marching in place, or doing squats or jumping jacks, for ten minutes before you head outdoors.

Pick the right shovel. Choose a shovel with a small blade. This will help you by not lifting as much so less strain is on your back. Select a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. A short handle will cause you to bend more to lift the load. Using a shovel that’s too long makes the weight at the end heavier. Space your hands several inches apart on the tool grip to increase your leverage. You might consider an ergonomic shovel that has a curved handle and is designed to take the stress off your back.

Begin shoveling slowly, allowing your body to become accustomed to the load demands.

Instead of lifting, push the shovel to move the material whenever possible.

When you do have to lift, squat with your legs apart, knees bent, stomach muscles tight and back straight. Take a small amount of whatever you are shoveling, then lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist, then walk to where you want to dump it, holding the shovelful close to your body.

Don’t throw over your shoulder or to your side because twisting while throwing.

Never rotate or twist your body. Pivot with your feet. This will keep the load off your spinal tissues as well as protect your shoulders. Remember the rule “nose follows toes”. Your nose and your feet should always be pointing in the same direction.

Pace yourself by taking frequent breaks. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.

Try this stretch before, during and after your shoveling: Lean backward, look up and reach your arms toward the sky and slowly exhale. This will provide relief to the spinal muscles that are doing much of the work while you are bent over shoveling. Repeat 3-5 times, stretching 10 seconds on each round.

If you do experience a strain. Keep in mind that most pain goes way after a day or two. Apply a cold pack as soon as possible after the injury at least several times a day for up to 20 minutes and take an anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen. After two or three days apply heat.

How NOT to shovel

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