February is a time when the snow tends to pile up, and we all get ready for the winter activity those of us in upstate NY typically do not look forward to – snow shoveling. Although shoveling is not enjoyable, it can be a good form of exercise if performed correctly. There are many considerations to keep in mind to get the most out of the exercise, and avoid common injuries. Here are some tips:
- A good guideline to do with any form of exercise is to keep your body warm. Wear warm clothes and cover your face if it is very cold outside. This is particularly important for anyone who has a history, or family history, of heart disease. If not adequately warm, your internal core will constrict, and make it harder on your heart to pump the blood all over your body.
- Make sure you do a light stretch with your arms, and trunk for about 5 minutes. Something as simple as rotating your arms and twisting your trunk to loosen up will help.
- Make sure to be very conscious of your body mechanics. You should be trying to push the snow, not pick it up and throw it. Keep your back as straight as possible and try to avoid twisting as you are moving the snow. Bend with your hips and knees to push the snow using your leg muscles.
- Perhaps the most important thing: break up the activity if it is too large. Shoveling for 45 minutes with a break, is much better on your body than shoveling for 1 hour and 30 minutes without a break, especially if you are not used to the activity.
The most common shoveling injuries are low back pain, and shoulder tendonitis. The best way to avoid low back pain is to use the proper body mechanics mentioned previously. If you are feeling back pain, try to adjust your posture to see if it helps. If it does not help, break up the activity into smaller portions with rest breaks. Most shoulder injuries occur when people try to throw the snow. It is very important to try to push the snow instead of throwing it. If shoulder pain is felt, remember to stretch, and put ice on your shoulder when completed, and break up the activity. If pain is present lasting longer than 3 days after shoveling, you should see your physical therapist or physician. The quicker the injury is addressed, the quicker it will heal!
The above is intended as general information only. Be sure to contact your physician for advice or your own specific medical problems.