Snow Shoveling Related Injuries

What are Snow Shoveling-Related Injuries?


Snow ShovelingSnow shoveling injuries require upper body strength and exertion. There are risks to personal health because of the low temperatures and also the state of health and fitness of the individual. It is important to educate the public about the proper techniques to shovel snow and prevent injuries. Persons with a heart condition are particularly at risk and should consider investing in a snow machine (blower) or contracting the services. Each winter there is a spike in the number of persons visiting the emergency room for snow shoveling related injuries and so there needs to be a greater emphasis on prevention messages.


The two common injuries related to snow shoveling are:

  1. Heart attack
  2. Back injuries

Signs and Symptoms

Heart Attack

  • Pain/pressure in the chest, arms, or neck
  • Sweating/clammy skin
  • Marked fatigue
  • Lightheadedness

Back Injury

  • Numbness
  • Pain

The injuries can vary from simple strains to herniated discs and fractures of the spine (usually resulting from falls).


Chest pains, especially acute onset pain, requires an urgent visit to the emergency room. Be sure to take any medication that has been prescribed by your doctor for chest pains.

Back Injuries as in any acute injury should be treated with cold pack for 20 minutes every 3-4 hours. After 3 days, it is recommended that the cold pack should be substituted for warm water application. Un-resolving discomfort, pain, and numbness require a clinical assessment.

A Word of Caution

If you are unsure about your level of fitness, err on the side of caution and avoid physical activities that could end up causing serious musculo-skeletal injuries. Shoveling snow is a rigorous exercise and demands strong upper torso and back strength. Persons with a heart condition should not even think about engaging in this activity.

Physical Therapy

The Role of Physical Therapy in the Treatment of Snow Shoveling Related Injuries is multi-pronged:

  1. Assessment of physical fitness and endurance
  2. Treatment of injuries and musculo-skeletal issues
  3. Rehabilitation

It must be emphasized that early consultation with the physical therapist will facilitate a prompt assessment and initiation of therapy.

General Tips from the physical therapist

  • Do stretching exercises before beginning the chore
  • Walking and marching on the spot are suitable warming up exercises
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine
  • Be well hydrated before starting the activity

Shoveling Techniques

  • Start by shoveling small loads of snow. Bend at the knees and lift with the legs
  • The ideal handle should be supportive (not too short or too long)
  • Avoid twisting at the waist or hip when shoveling. Take a step in the same direction that you are throwing the snow
  • There is merit in pushing the snow out of the way rather than shoveling
  • Frequent rest in between shoveling is important. Walk around to relax the lower back
  • Gently stretching the upper torso will relax the stress on the lower back

As with any injury, if there is no ease of the pain with the above conservative measures, then you must be assessed by a medical doctor. Investigations such as x-ray and MRI studies will be done and medical treatment given to alleviate the pain.

Readers Bureau, Contributor

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