Shoveling snow seems pretty basic but doesn’t underestimate how labor-intensive it can be. After all, it’s been known to wipe out even those who are very physically fit. And the weight of snow can be pretty misleading, too: As it’s falling from the sky, it may seem like it will be light, but once it starts to pile up on the ground, it can become packed and heavy, especially if ice is present.
Shoveling this hefty mixture could lead to back strain, bone fractures, and raised heart rate, potentially resulting in death. So what’s the optimal way to shovel snow, so you don’t wear yourself out? Continue reading to learn how to keep yourself safe while shoveling snow this winter.
Use the Right Tools
One way to make the process of shoveling snow easier is to use the best snow removal equipment available. With ergonomic gear designed to take some of the effort out of the work, you run less risk of exerting your body in a way that may cause harm.
The most important tool you’ll need is a good snow shovel. There are several types: Some are designed for scooping and lifting snow (tall, mostly flat blade), and some are constructed for pushing snow like a plow (short and wide curved blade). A push shovel allows you to move snow without lifting to protect your lower back, but it performs best with three inches or less of snow. For versatility, you may opt for a combination shovel with a semi-curved, medium-sized blade that can scoop and push snow.
Before buying, make sure the shovel is comfortable for you. The shaft length should be appropriate to your height: When the shovel blade is on the ground, the handle should reach your chest area. Also, look for shovels with curved or bent shafts or equipped with a second handle designed to lessen the amount of bending.
When choosing the proper shovel for your needs, determine whether a metal or plastic blade will work best for your driveway or sidewalk. Metal blades are especially efficient at getting the job done, but they may potentially leave scratches on the surface of pavement or stairs. Also, consider that metal ones are heavy, so you’ll have to strain more to lift the extra weight in addition to snow. Plastic blades are lightweight but aren’t as good at scraping and breaking the ice and are more prone to breakage.
Consider this, too: You’ll need to remove snow from other places aside from the ground. With its long pole and wide head, a snow rake helps you clear away snow accumulating in high, hard-to-reach spots, like your roof or even the top of your car. Avoid pulling too much snow off at a time when using it, as this could cause injuries or even damage the roof or the side of your home.
If you live in an area of the country that gets significant snowfall, you may want to consider investing in a snow blower. Snowblowers are either gas or electric-powered and use augers to chew snow and “spit” it back out of the machine, usually to the side, to quickly clear sidewalks, driveways, and other pathways with minimal effort. Depending on how uneven your terrain is, the volume of snowfall you get, and the amount of area you need to clear, you’ll need to determine whether you should get a single-stage, two-stage, or three-stage blower (ranging from least heavy-duty to most).
Tips for Shoveling Snow
The best way to shovel snow is before it gets compacted by car or walking traffic. Ensure that you redistribute the shoveled snow as far away from the driveway or walkway as possible so that when it melts, it doesn’t drain back into the areas you just cleared. Take your time and remove small shovelfuls of snow rather than large ones to prevent overloading the shovel and causing injury. After shoveling, cover walkways and driveways with de-icing products to prevent them from freezing and getting slippery. Adding de-icers before a storm will also make snow removal easier.
Dress for the Elements
Snow forms at 32 degrees F or below, and the temperature can feel even colder due to wind chills, so it is essential to learn the right way to layer for the outdoors. Since you’ll likely break a sweat, it’s important you wear a breathable base layer close to the skin that dries quickly. Wool, technical fabrics, or polyester are good choices instead of a cotton T-shirt, which takes longer to dry and will chill you to the bone. An optimal second layer provides insulation (think: a fleece or a wool sweater), while your coat will shield you from wind, rain, and snow.
You may also want to put on a snowsuit or an appropriate amount of layers to ensure you keep warm when temperatures get low. Don’t forget to protect your hands with warm gloves and cover your head and ears with a hat or hood.
Finally, make sure you are wearing a great pair of boots that are well-insulated and have good traction to prevent falls while you’re shoveling. Boots such as Dream Pairs Women’s Mid-Calf Waterproof Winter Snow Boots or NORTIV Men’s Waterproof Hiking Winter Snow Boots.
How to Shovel Snow Without Hurting Yourself
Shoveling is a full-body workout. Therefore you should approach it the way you would, exercising at the gym or jogging in the park. Before you begin, stretch to limber up and improve blood flow. And then, while you are in the midst of shoveling, don’t forget to take breaks every 15 minutes or so to catch your breath, stretch, and drink some water as you would during a workout. Cold weather often makes us feel less thirsty, which increases the risk of dehydration.
When shoveling, it’s crucial to use proper form to prevent back strain. Bend the knees and lift the shovel using your leg muscles, keeping your spine straight at all times to avoid pressure on the lower back. When lifting, limit arm movement and engage your core muscles. You can
alternate between a right- and left-handed stance to not wear out one side of your body over the other. When it comes to dumping snow, minimize bending and twisting at the waist as much as possible to avoid causing a herniated disc or other back injuries. Instead, pivot the entire body.
How to Deal With Post-Shoveling Aches
Your body likely isn’t used to the repetitive strain of shoveling, so you may experience some pain and soreness. Here are a few ways to get relief after shoveling.
Take a Warm Epsom Salt Bath
After you’ve taken time to warm up from being in the frigid air, consider taking a warm Epsom salt bath. The magnesium and sulfate released from Epsom salts are said to relax muscles, soothe stiff joints, and reduce swelling.
While it is important to stretch a bit before shoveling, it is also smart to stretch after shoveling to minimize pain and injury after performing this arduous task. Something as simple as gently tilting your head back for 10 seconds, or lying flat on the ground and pulling your knees into your chest, will allow your body to heal and recover. Using a foam roller on achy muscles can also help release stiffness.
Get Plenty of Rest
Shoveling snow is much like an intense workout at the gym so allow your body to get as much rest as necessary to recover. For extra sore muscles, you may want to try applying an ice pack within the first 48 hours to reduce pain and inflammation.
If You Experience a Medical Emergency While Shoveling
It’s never a good idea to keep going if you’re experiencing extreme physical exertion. And if you have an existing heart condition, it’s best to avoid shoveling completely. Though if you suddenly don’t feel well while shoveling snow, here’s what you should do.
Know the Signs
No matter how urgent clearing snow away from your driveway or pathway may be, if your heart rate increases or your start experiencing numbness or tingling in your hands and toes, you should stop. The numbness you feel may be the onslaught of frostbite, which could also turn your skin red, purple, blue, or brown and make it look waxy. Continuing to shovel even though your body isn’t able could lead to severe injury or death. You may return to the task once your body has had time to rest or simply hire a professional snow removal team.
Keep Your Mobile Phone Nearby
When you’re outside shoveling, keeping your mobile phone with you is a good idea. This is useful for a few reasons. One is that you can download a heart-rate monitor app to your phone to check your heart rate periodically as you work. You could also purchase a heart rate-monitoring wearable device, such as the Fitbit Charge 5 Advanced Fitness Health Tracker, that you can wear at all times. If your heart rate has reached the danger zone and you’re feeling unwell, call 911 for help.
Consult a Physician
If you feel intense back pain during or after shoveling snow, there’s a chance you may have an injury like a sprained muscle or a herniated disc or exacerbated an existing issue like sciatica. If the pain in your back lasts longer than a week, visit your primary care doctor, who may recommend a chiropractor, neurologist, physical therapist, orthopedist, or other specialists.
What more should you know about shoveling snow? Here are answers to some of the most common questions.
What’s the Best Time to Remove Snow?
It is a good idea to remove snow shortly after it stops falling since freshly fallen snow is much lighter than snow that has become dense and packed on the ground for a while. However, during a snowstorm that has a lot of expected accumulation, it will be more manageable to shovel a few inches periodically than the strain of shoveling deep snow once it has ended.
How Do I Remove Snow That Sticks to the Shovel?
Snow may stick to your shovel because the shovel may be too warm. To minimize this problem and ensure easy shoveling, it is ideal to store your shovel in a place where it will remain as cool as the temperatures outdoors, such as a garage, shed, or basement. Additionally, you may want to coat your blade in non-stick cooking spray to help keep snow from sticking.
Should I Hire Professionals to Remove Snow?
If you are physically up for the challenge of removing snow from your property, it’s more economical for you to handle it. However, there are circumstances when you may want to solicit the help of a professional snow removal company to get the job done, especially if you have a large amount of land and very little time to complete the task. Pros will have the right equipment, work with plenty of labor to complete the task faster, minimize damage to your property, and provide much more aesthetic results.