Shoveling properly can help with your health

Published 8:27 am Monday, December 28, 2009

I always say, “I love mowing the lawn, but I hate shoveling snow.”

I am sure I am not the only one who says this. I like spending time by myself in the summer making my yard look great. This can’t be said with snow shoveling, at least I’ve never heard it. Though there is at least one good thing to take away from shoveling snow, as you burn an average of 400 to 600 calories per hour.

There are right and wrong ways to shovel and paying attention to how you do this can make a big difference on how your body feels the next day. Shoveling mainly uses the arms, shoulders and back muscles. The average weight of a shovel-full of snow is five to 10 pounds.

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Considering this, think of how much weight you may move around as you shovel. With snow, there comes cold temperatures and with the cold temperatures our bodies numb the sensations of pain and fatigue. Due to this numbness we don’t know if we’ve injured our bodies or not. That being said, here are some proper snow shoveling techniques.

Prepare yourself

Spraying Teflon onto your shovel before using it will help the snow slide off it much easier without allowing it to stick to the shovel. This keeps the shovel lighter as well.


Getting your body warmed up before shoveling is just like in athletics. You need to warm up your muscles to help prevent injury. Running in place for a minute or two followed by some ballistic stretching (fast “bouncing” movements as opposed to just holding your muscles) will help the blood to start flowing. Also, don’t forget to breathe while warming up and while shoveling. Holding your breath makes you tight and stiff.

Proper clothing

Wearing your clothes in layers will help keep your body warm and flexible. If you get too hot, you can always remove a layer. Wearing gloves that cover your wrists will also help to prevent your fingers, hands and arms from getting cold as well. Wearing shoes that have plenty of cushioning and good traction will also help to decrease the load and prevent falls.

Picking the right shovel

A shovel should be chest high allowing you to keep your back straight when lifting. If the shovel is too high it makes it heavier at the end, if it is too short it forces you to bend more. Ergonomic shovels are not for everyone, so unless you’ve been recommended one by your physician, stick to the basic shovel. To help balance your weight, keep one hand close the base of the shovel. This will also help to take some strain off your back.

Timing and hydration

The ideal time to shovel would be in the afternoon as many disc injuries happen in the morning due to increased fluid in the discs because your body had been at rest all night. Keeping hydrated is also important, so drink plenty of water. Remember that caffeine dehydrates the body so keep the coffee and soda to a minimum, if at all. Make sure you don’t work too fast as you shovel. Ideally you’d shovel for five minutes with a two-minute break following. This helps to prevent strain on your muscles.

Proper posture

The best way to shovel snow is to keep your back straight while bending with your legs when you lift. Try to push the snow straight forward, then walk it to the bank when the shovel is full. Do not try to throw it. Avoid sudden twists to reduce back strain. The American Chiropractic Association recommends using the “scissors stance,” in which you work with your right foot forward for a few minutes and then shifting to the left.

See your chiropractor

Spinal manipulations, or adjustments, will help keep your back flexible and minimize your chance for injury. If you overdo it, your chiropractor can get you back on track and help prevent further injury.

Jeff Eaton is a chiropractor at Eaton Sport & Spine Clinic in Albert Lea.