10 Tips for Digging Yourself out of Snowpocalypse 2011

Sure, the snow was pretty while you enjoyed it from the comforts of your warm home, but now it’s covering your car, your driveway and all the streets in between. Unfortunately, unless you own a snow blower or can schmooze up to a friend who does, you’re stuck digging yourself out of this mess. But before you dive headfirst into the remnants of Snowpocalypse 2011, physical therapist Jennifer Witt has some advice.

As I’m typing this, my back is sore and aching. I didn’t go to the gym for a marathon workout; I just shoveled some snow—for several hours.  Now, I’m not out of shape.  I do at least 45 minutes of cardio at the gym 5 days a week, lift weights 3 days a week, and am training for a 5K. However, with the recent snow, I haven’t been able to go to the gym, so I’ve considered shoveling my driveway my workout…and well, it’s worked.

Shoveling snow, however, comes with risk of injury. Thousands of people each year end up in emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and therapy clinics secondary to injuring themselves during this wintery task. These can range from shoulder injuries to back strains, even heart attacks. Here are some tips to remain safe and injury-free while clearing the drive.

1.      Don’t Forget the Warm-Up

Shoveling snow should be considered a workout. Muscles need to be stretched and warmed up prior to tackling the task.  Reach up towards the sky, bend over and touch your toes, jog in place for a minute or two.

2.      No Need to Freeze–Bundle Up

Snow and cold weather go hand-in-hand. Just because you’ll be working up a sweat, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dress warmly. Hypothermia is a concern when out in the cold. Cover your ears, wear gloves, and dress in layers to insulate your body.

3.      Just Breathe

During strenuous activity, muscles require more oxygen to meet the higher demand of the task. In order to get this oxygen, you must breathe. Inhale while shoveling and exhale while dumping.

4.      Take a Little Bit at a Time

Here in the Ozarks, a lot of snow can fall in a short amount of time. There is no need to shovel all the way down to the concrete. Huge piles of snow on a shovel can weigh upwards of 10-15 pounds, which can translate to a tremendous amount of strain on your low back. Rather than tackling it all at once, take a few inches off at a time.

5.      Take Rest Breaks

There is no need to shovel the drive in one swipe.  Shovel small sections at a time and take frequent rest breaks. This not only keeps your muscles from getting fatigued too quickly, it also allows time to warm your hands.

6.      Push It

Who ever said that shoveling snow means you have to lift it? If at all possible, push the snow out of the way with the shovel.  If this is not an option, push what you can and shovel the rest.

7.      Don’t Twist and Turn, Your Back Might Burn

As with any time you are lifting a heavy load, twisting at the low back should be avoided at all costs in order to protect the low back from unnecessary strain and prevent injury. Instead of twisting to throw the snow over to the side, pivot with your feet in that direction, or take a couple of extra seconds to walk over to the snow pile.

8.      Keep That Load Close

It is very important when lifting anything, to keep the load close to your body. The further away the load is from your body, the further away your center of gravity is, which significantly increases the strain on your arms, and more importantly, your low back.

9.      Use Those Legs

You’ve heard it a million times…DON’T LIFT WITH YOUR BACK! The muscles of the buttocks and legs are much larger and stronger than those in your back. You know if you are using your legs if you are able keep a neutral spine, i.e., keeping an “S” shaped curve, not a “C” shape.

10.   When Hearts Attack

Heart attacks are a very real concern when shoveling snow. This activity is a genuine cardiovascular workout and can put too much stress on the heart, especially for people who have underlying cardiac problems.  The best thing to do if you are concerned about your cardiac health is to delegate snow shoveling to someone else. Even if you have to pay, it’s much cheaper than the expense of a hospital stay.


  • Any form of chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper back, either arm (especially left), or jaw

In short, be smart about what you are doing. You know your own body and what it can handle, so respond accordingly.  Happy shoveling!

 Content provided by Jennifer Witt, DPT. Jennifer works at OCH Christian County Clinic in Nixa. She received both her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Missouri State University. She has experience in inpatient, outpatient, home health and pediatric settings. Her primary interest in physical therapy is pediatrics, specifically the 0-3 age group covering a variety of diagnoses. To contact Jennifer, call (417) 725-8250.


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