injury prevention

How to Shovel (Through a PRI Lens)

Image from www.thegentleplace.com

Image from www.thegentleplace.com

The snow is here! And there may be more snow on the way so it’s important to know how to shovel your drive and walkways without causing excessive pain or injure yourself. 

1) Wear good shoes - You’re about to lift a lot of weight so having appropriate footwear is important. A good foundation for your foot allows for proper weight bearing through your legs and overall alignment of your body. If you feel comfortable and the snow is not too thick, just wear your tennis shoes.  If the snow is deeper, wear snow boots with good, supportive or any custom orthotics you may wear. 

2) Choose a good shovel - We all know that tools can make or break a job so choose a shovel that won’t break your back! We like ergonomic designs where the handle is slightly bent so that the shovel blade is lower to the ground. This is useful so you don’t have to bend over so far to get your blade to the ground. It also makes scooping the blade under the snow easier.

3) Squat - Once your blade is under that snow, you’re going to have to lift it. Be sure to squat down BEFORE lifting the snow. Place one foot slightly ahead of the other and press through your heels, as if you’re pushing the ground away from you, while you straighten your knees and stand up. It’s similar to pushing the footboard away from you on a leg press machine. You may be able to rest your forearms on your thighs to help lift the heavy snow off the ground. 

4) Use your abs - Now that you have all that weight lifted you’re going to have to move it off to the side. Do this by using your abs! Their job is to tuck your ribs, round your back, and twist your body. As this post is through a PRI lens, we want you to use your left abs a lot more than your right. In order to do this, you’ll need to have your left foot ahead of your right with your left hand farther down the shaft of the shovel (closer to the blade). As you get ready to through your snow to the side, be sure that your left shoulder stays lower than your right (trunk slightly bent to the left) and sense and feel your left abs rotate your trunk to the left so that your breast bone ends up facing toward the left. Your abs should be the primary force rotating your trunk, not your arms! It’s important to switch your lead arm/leg while shoveling to avoid fatigue and overuse injury, but as mentioned before, shovel with your left arm and left foot forward most often. 

5) Pace yourself - shoveling is much more taxing to our musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems than we like to admit. Realize it’s ok to take period breaks to avoid fatigue and give your system a rest!

6) Have realistic expectations - Lifting large amounts of weights for a long time is not something most people do on a regular basis. Be aware that you will feel muscular soreness after doing this. This is normal. Even soreness in muscles that PRI likes to inhibit (lower back muscles, pecs, biceps, etc.) will be sore and that is ok. Shoveling is not a specific, rehabilitative activity; It’s an activity that uses many, many muscles in the body in order to complete a difficult physical task. It’s even acceptable if the pain for which you are receiving treatment gets aggravated. We would like to keep that as minimal as possible using the above tips, but if your body cannot tolerating driving a car, making it through a work day, folding laundry, etc. without feeling pain, it is to be expected that shoveling will exacerbate it to some extent. 

7) DO YOUR EXERCISES! - Be sure to do at least one of your exercises immediately before and immediately after shoveling. The idea is that we want to begin this physically demanding activity with our bodies in the best possible position. It’s likely that we will lose our good position or begin using compensatory muscle groups as we fatigue with shoveling so ending with an exercise (or more) will help put our body back in the correct position and quiet down our overused muscles so avoid excessive pain. 



Written by Lesley Callaham, MPT, PRC January 15, 2019