How to Shovel Safely


Ken Shannon, Outpatient Rehabilitation Manager

Winter is officially here. It’s time to think about safe snow removal.

Most people associate the major health danger of shoveling with cardiac events, such as heart attack. However, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, less than seven percent of Emergency Department visits related to shoveling were cardiac in nature.

Surprisingly, almost 55 percent are injuries like sprain, strains and bruises. More than 34 percent of all snow shovel-related injuries are to the lower back, and 15 percent of shoveling-related ED visits are actually related to being hit by a shovel. (Yes, that happens in real life—not just in cartoons!)

How can you avoid a trip to the ED? Here are some tips for safer snow shoveling.

  • Use supportive shoes with a good grip. This will reduce your risk of slipping or falling.
  • Invest in a shovel with a plow-shaped blade. The plow-shaped shovel is used to push smaller amounts of snow, rather than lifting it. Pushing will reduce strain on the lower back.
  • Optimize your lifting technique. If you must lift the snow, choose a shovel with an ergonomic handle and use correct technique:
    1. Start with your feet shoulder width apart.
    2. Grip the shovel with one hand on the handle and the other closer to the blade.
    3. While using good posture and maintaining the natural curves of your spine, bend your knees and hips, stick the blade into the snow, then lift the blade back up using your legs. This technique puts less strain on the spine.
  • Try to avoid twisting while lifting or carrying snow. Rapid twisting and rotating with a load can increase the risk of sprain/strain injuries.
  • Don’t lift too much at once. Tempted try to scoop a large pile of snow at once? Don’t. Moving smaller loads reduces the stress on your lower back and other muscles.
  • Treat it like a workout. Stay hydrated. Take rest breaks when you need them.
  • Timing is everything. When safe to do so, consider removing snow throughout the storm to keep the volume of snow manageable.

By following these safety tips, you’ll have clear sidewalks, open driveways, and a clean bill of health for this winter season.