WEST ORANGE, NJ – Snow shoveling can be a pain, but it doesn't have to cause pain in the arms, neck, back or elsewhere. In fact, according to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, shoveling snow can be good exercise if done safely and correctly.
“It is generally recommended that adults strive for approximately twenty to thirty minutes of moderate exercise at least three to four days a week, especially during the winter months when both outdoor temperatures and personal motivation tend to drop," said Terry Carolan, PT, NCS, ATP, Clinical Manager at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. "Shoveling snow for about fifteen minutes at a time counts as moderate physical activity—much like a brisk walk."
However, Kessler said that snow shoveling, like most types of exercise, does present some physical risks. They pointed out that according to a study by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, snow shoveling sends on average of more than 11,000 adults and children to the hospital each year.
"Every winter, people experience back injuries, falls, fractures and even heart attacks as the result of shoveling snow," notes Carolan. "People don’t realize that shoveling, combined with the cold weather, puts a great deal of stress on the body. For older or more sedentary individuals, there is an increased risk of injury. But generally, by using proper warm-up and lifting techniques, along with some common sense, individuals can help to reduce their risk of injury."
Kessler, a national leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, recommends the following guidelines:
- Avoid caffeine or nicotine before shoveling, especially if you have a history of or are at high risk for a heart attack. These stimulants may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict, which places extra stress on the heart. If you have a heart condition or back problems, check with your doctor before doing any shoveling.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Dress in layers and be sure to wear a hat, gloves or mittens, and sturdy, non-skid footwear.
- Do some basic warm-up exercises before shoveling, such as: walking for a few minutes or marching in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs because warm muscles will work more efficiently and are less likely to become injured.
- Try to shovel fresh snow rather than partially melted and packed snow. Lift small amounts at a time using your legs, not your back. Scoop the snow in a forward motion and step in the direction as you throw the snow. Avoid twisting and tossing the snow over your shoulder or to the side. If possible, try pushing the snow forward rather than lifting.
- Use a sturdy snow shovel that has open ends that allow you to easily toss the snow off to the side.
- If you experience any pain in the chest or arm, shortness of breath or profuse sweating, stop shoveling immediately and seek appropriate emergency medical attention.
- Most importantly, pace yourself. Be sure to take frequent rest breaks and avoid over- exertion.
Snow shoveling is hard work. But by understanding ones physical condition and taking the appropriate precautionary measures, he/she can help reduce the risk of injury during these winter months.