We recently asked our Physical Therapist Brandon Boeck to share his safety tips for shoveling snow. Brandon is determined to stick to shoveling versus snowplowing or snow blowing – for at least the next year – so staying healthy all winter long is essential for him. Keep reading for a great story and his top shoveling tips!

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Here’s the Scoop: Shoveling Minnesota Winters From the Perspective of a MN PT

Although my wife, Sam, has been adamant that we get a snow blower for years, I have remained stubborn (or cheap?) and insist on shoveling our drive and walkway. They always say to pick your battles, so I guess this is mine because to me there is no greater feeling than admiring my slightly above average work when all is said and done.

Well, it’s now February. Sam definitely won’t help me, snow continues to fall, and I’m convinced the plow driver truly enjoys dumping an extra 3+ feet at the end of my driveway. My moment of pride is also getting interrupted as I’m reminded what a pain (used in the most literal sense) snow shoveling can be.

According to a seventeen-year study conducted by Daniel, et al. published in the The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, the most frequently area injured is the lower back, accounting for 34% of shoveling related injuries. Lower back pain? Yep, this self-proclaimed shoveling warrior can relate. It may sound like an over simplified solution but warming up prior and stretching after can reduce the risk of injury or reduce the time spent with a sore back. From the lens of a physical therapist, which I admit I do not always look through (especially when in a time crunch), shoveling is no different than any other physically demanding activity. Therefore a warm up and cool down can also be applied to any body region or joint of concern (hips, knees, shoulders, etc.). These activities do not require much time and can be done while putting on your winter gear.

Another seemingly obvious, but often ignored, piece of advice is to find the right tool for the job. Pro tip: A good portion of this job can be performed with a shovel that is built for pushing, rather than scooping and tossing. The act of lifting and twisting, especially repetitively and only to one direction, is likely the mechanism for injury to the arms and hands. Injury to arms and hands accounted for 16% of snow shovel-related injuries. When able, push the snow rather than lift it and use ergonomically designed shovels.

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Snowfalls in Minnesota can sometimes last for hours and the accumulation can add a significant amount of volume to your drive and walkways. When possible, I would also recommend tackling the job in smaller and shoveling every 1-2 hours if a notable snowfall is anticipated. Moving large volumes of snow and the cold temps can result in a decent workout for a healthy heart but can be problematic for those folks with cardiovascular issues. Be careful if this applies to you and be certain to take on a large job in smaller chunks.

So, Minnesota winters are tough on all of us and maybe I’ll listen to my wife… next year. To recap the recommendations this physical therapist is making to reduce your risk of injury while shoveling your way through a Minnesota winter: warm-up prior to and stretch after; invest in the right tool for the job and avoid repetitive lifting and twisting to the same direction; and take on the job in smaller increments when possible. Happy shoveling to my fellow scoop troopers!

Brandon Boeck, PT, DPT

Optivus Physical Therapy

Daniel S. Watson, Brenda J. Shields, Gary A. Smith. Snow shovel–related injuries and medical emergencies treated in US EDs, 1990 to 2006. The American Emergency Medicine, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.ajem.2009.07.003