If you live in Chicago, you will understand why we are posting a snow shoveling entry at the end of January. A surprising amount of injuries occur due to improper shoveling practices.  Shoveling is not a danger in itself, it is dependent on HOW we shovel. As we move into the peak snow season in Chicago, we want to equip you with a few pointers to keep in mind.

5 tips to think about when Shoveling:

1. Bend at the hip

You have most likely heard this phrase used in a variety of settings and with shoveling it is no different. This is because when considering the mechanics of your body, hinging at the hip is wildly important. Legs should be slightly apart, knees bent, and back straight. When bending, we want to avoid putting excessive load on the lumbar region of the spine. Improper loading increases the body’s demand in lumbar flexion (creating a “C” with the spine).

The American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported in 2010 that an average of 11,550 individuals were treated annually in the United States for snow shovel-related incidents during their 17-year study (Watson, Shields, & Smith, 2010). Soft tissue injury accounted for over half of those injuries. Additionally, Watson and colleagues found that the most common body region affected in this study was the trunk and lower back.

2. Warm-Up

Shoveling snow requires an increased demand of physical activity. Skipping a training session at a gym because you cleared out the driveway is not suggested.  What we are suggesting is that you allow your body a warm up period before shoveling. You would not jump into a game of basketball without warming up your muscles (at least we hope you would not), therefore it makes sense to warm up before shoveling.

3. Push appropriate amounts of snow

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that individuals push snow as opposed to lifting snow. By pushing snow, we decrease the need or tendency to place the back in the undesired “C” position (lumbar flexion) when introducing load. Additionally, pushing snow removes the demand of twisting the spine. If you must lift snow, keep your loads light and walk to where you would like to place the snow. Keep the heavy lifts for the gym.

4. Take your time

The quickest solution to clearing out the snow from sidewalks and driveways is to install heated pavements. Shoveling snow is going to take some time. In line with incorporating a warm-up period, take your time when shoveling to avoid injuries. Incorporate frequent breaks and do not  shovel until the point of exhaustion.

5. Ask for help

If you have suffered a previous injury or have a history of heart-related disease that places you at risk during physical activity, consider asking for help. We ultimately care about you and your health, which means optioning out of doing tasks that are not appropriate for you at this time. Chances are there will be someone in the neighborhood willing to lend you a hand.


Have a safe snow shoveling season!


Watson, D. S., Shields, B. J., & Smith, G. A. (2010). Snow Shovel-related Injuries and Medical Emergencies Treated in US EDs, 1990 to 2006. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine , 29(1), 11-17. doi:10.1016/j.ajem.2009.07.003