Occupational Therapist

The Body Mechanics of Shoveling Snow

Don’t get me wrong, I actually love winter. I love skiing, my birthday is in the winter, I love how pretty, peaceful and quiet it is after a snowfall and the first snowfall of the season still makes me giddy like a child. However, currently I feel like this cartoon. We are expected to receive 10-20 more inches by Tuesday morning, on top of the 2 feet we received last weekend, after the 3 feet we got the weekend before that. It seems like Mother Nature has decided New England is the new Antarctica and even Minnesota would be warm and balmy compared to this. I have been fortunate enough that I have done very little shoveling. We have had plows and my husband is very diligent with his snow removal. However, I know everyone is not so lucky. As a result I am going to try to offer some advice on the proper way to shovel without killing your back. 

Body Mechanics is the study of muscle movements to aid in lifting, pulling and postural corrections in the most efficient way in order to prevent injury and increase endurance for tasks. There are few general principles for correct body mechanics,

  1. Remain close to the object 
  2. Use short lever arms for better control & efficiency (with less strain)-Don’t use a shovel with a 10 foot long handle!
  3. Maintain your center of gravity close to the object’s center of gravity
  4. Widen your base of support and position your feet according to the direction of movement you will use to perform the activity  
  5. Use the largest & strongest muscles of your arms, legs and trunk  
  6. Avoid twisting your body when you lift  
  7. When possible, push, pull, roll, or slide an object rather than lifting

So how does this apply to shoveling. Here are some important tips. Always face the snow you are shoveling. Bend at your hips, not your back, and lift with your leg muscles keeping your back straight. Position one hand on the shovel close to the blade and the other hand at the handle to provide stability. Do not twist or throw the snow, instead pivot your whole body when dumping the snow.Whenever possible, push the snow to one side rather than lifting it. Although these techniques may make your shoveling job take a little longer, it will save your back and hopefully hours of back pain afterwards!

There are also many of ergonomic shovels on the market. Make sure you do your research first to see what kind of shovel is right for you. Some shovels have a bent handle which makes it easier to scoop snow, there are also shovels designed to push the snow, and I even saw one shovel that has a mechanism that automatically releases the snow. Hopefully some of these tips will help save your backs and hopefully spring will be around the corner. Although it may take till the summer for all this snow to melt!

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