Kessler News


West Orange, NJ, January 10, 2011 - Snow shoveling doesn't have to be a pain in the neck ... or the back or elsewhere. In fact, shoveling snow can actually be good exercise if done safely and correctly.

"Shoveling snow for about fifteen minutes at a time counts as moderate physical activity, similar to a brisk walk," said Terry Carolan, PT, NCS, ATP, Clinical Manager at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. "Adults are generally advised to do about twenty to thirty minutes of moderate exercise at least three to four days a week and shoveling can help provide that -- especially during the winter months when both outdoor temperatures and personal motivation tend to drop."

However, snow shoveling, like most types of exercise, does present some physical risks.

"Every winter, individuals experience back injuries, falls, fractures, and even heart attacks as the result of shoveling snow," notes Carolan. "People don't realize that shoveling, combined with the cold weather, puts a great deal of stress on the body. For older or more sedentary individuals, there is an increased risk of injury. Generally, by combining proper warm-up and lifting techniques with some common sense, individuals can help to reduce their risk of injury."

Kessler, a leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, offers these guidelines:

  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Avoid caffeine or nicotine, as they can cause extra stress on the heart, especially among individuals with a history of or are at high risk for a heart attack.
  • Dress in layers and be sure to wear a hat, gloves, and sturdy, non-skid footwear.
  • Do some basic warm-up exercises before shoveling, such as walking for a few minutes or marching in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs. Warm muscles will work more efficiently and are less likely to become injured.
  • Try to shovel fresh snow rather than partially melted and packed snow.
    • Lift small amounts at a time using your legs, not your back.
    • Scoop snow in a forward motion and step in the direction as you throw the snow. Avoid twisting and tossing the snow over your shoulder or to the side.
    • If possible, try pushing the snow forward rather than lifting.
  • Make sure you have a good snow shovel. Many newer models offer ergonomic features to facilitate lifting and throwing.
  • Pace yourself. Take frequent rest breaks and avoid over-exertion.
  • Most importantly, if you experience any pain in the chest or arm, shortness of breath or profuse sweating, stop shoveling immediately and seek appropriate medical attention.

Snow shoveling is hard work. It's always a good idea to check with your physician before undertaking any shoveling, especially if you have heart, back or other any medical conditions. By understanding your physical condition and taking appropriate precautionary measures, you can help reduce the risk of injury.


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