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Avoiding Back Injuries While Shoveling Snow

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- With a winter blizzard expected to hit New
York City this weekend and up to a foot of snow anticipated in
much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, physical therapists at
Duke University Medical Center are offering advice on the best
ways to avoid potential back injuries from snow shoveling.

Kurt Brooks, PT, DScPT, in the Department of Physical
Therapy & Occupational Therapy, said a variety of injuries
can happen if shovelers do not properly prepare themselves for
the task.

"When shoveling snow, it is always possible to pull a muscle
if you're not watching for signs that you're putting yourself
at risk," Brooks said. "You could also develop a sprain or
strain, rupture or herniate a disc, and in some cases suffer
from cardiac complications, such as a heart attack."

To minimize the risk of injury, Brooks advises that you:

  • lift with your knees, not with your back
  • slow down if you start to sweat
  • stay hydrated
  • take frequent breaks
  • take smaller loads, and avoid holding your breath while
    lifting
  • stop if you feel pain

Although the level of physical fitness determines how long
and at what speed people shovel snow, Brooks said stretching
before shoveling can benefit everyone. Lying down, pulling the
knees to the chest and dropping the knees from side to side are
a few easy ways to loosen the back muscles. A short walk and
rotating the shoulders can also be helpful to warm up muscles
prior to exertion.

Brooks said individuals should expect the normal
post-exercise muscle soreness that can last between 18 to 36
hours. Alternating heat and ice can reduce the pain. However,
if the pain persists for a week or more, contact a
physician.

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