Courtney Budd, MSPT, CSCS
Supervisor of Physical Therapy
Cooper Bone and Joint Institute
‘Tis the season for raking and shoveling. Although the falling leaves and snow are beautiful, the change of seasons often results in physical labor. Ridding lawns and driveways of leaves and snow is not always an easy task; however, when done properly, back injuries can be avoided.
Raking and shoveling are highly demanding physical activities, and proper form and equipment need to be used to prevent injury. An ergonomic snow shovel can help take some of the effort out of your snow removal chores. A shovel with a curved handle or an adjustable handle length will minimize bending. In addition, a small, lightweight, plastic blade helps reduce the amount of weight that you are moving.
When doing any type of heavy lifting or repetitive activity, such as snow shoveling, one should focus on proper lifting mechanics. Minimizing excessive rotation of the body, and keeping the knees bent are important for injury prevention. Keeping the core engaged, and using the legs to provide most of the power when lifting will help protect your spine.
Try to minimize excessive heavy lifting by breaking up the lifting into smaller loads. Do not hold your breath during lifting. Try to time your exhale with exertion. Make sure you are wearing protective gloves and goggles if needed. If you are going to be standing on a slippery surface, wear shoes or boots with good traction to prevent slippage.
Some common concerns associated with raking and shoveling are neck, back, and shoulder strain. Of course, your neck, back, and shoulders may not be the first thing on your mind as you hurry to get a big job done. However, these parts of your body endure the most stress due to excessive reaching and rotation.
A gentle warm up may be helpful to prepare your muscles for the task at hand. Work into the activity starting with a slower pace. A few minutes of simple arm circles or a brisk walk will warm up your muscles and prepare your body.
For those who are unsure of their physical capabilities or who have a history of medical issues, it is important to consult a physician before attempting these outside activities.
Lastly, consider purchasing a leaf blower or snow blower to minimize repetitive stress on your body.