Whether you haven't been to the gym for a few months or a few years, you usually ease back into it to avoid serious injury.

That's common sense. When you have to shovel snow for the first time in months or years, y'all just go for it! Throw on your coat, slip on your boots and dig in. When there's a couple feet of fresh powder on your driveway and you've got to get to work, all reasonable thought goes out the window.

If you are in peak physical condition you'll probably be just fine. If you're not, you may be putting yourself at great risk.

The most common injuries associated specifically with the physical exertion required to shovel snow are:

1) Lower back injuries;

2) Shoulder injuries and;

3) Heart attacks.

Some of the risk factors for lower back and shoulder injury include lack of physical conditioning, history of previous lower back or shoulder injury, cold temperatures, caffeine, alcohol and early morning shoveling.

Risk factors for heart injuries include poor cardiovascular and muscular conditioning, cold temperatures, high blood pressure, pre-existing heart disorder, gender (men are 200 percent more likely to have a heart injury), age (over the age of 55 increases cardiac risk by 400 percent), caffeine consumption and smoking cigarettes.

Poor cardiovascular, strength and core conditioning are pretty obvious and self explanatory as risk factors for snow shoveling or any other high exertion activity. It's the less obvious risk factors where much of the more serious danger exists.

Some of the less obvious factors include early morning hormone balance, cold weather, cigarette smoking, caffeine and alcohol. All cause significant vascular restriction.

The above risk factors are all very dangerous when you're about to participate in a high exertion activity. You wouldn't train in the gym under any of these conditions without taking precautionary measures, would you?

Another interesting and less obvious risk factor is the intense isometric exertion of your legs while snow shoveling. As a chiropractor and strength coach, I'm very cautious in regard to which patients I'll teach isometric conditioning to. Isometric means contraction of the muscles without movement which significantly increases your blood pressure. When shoveling snow almost all leg activity is isometric. In other words you are contracting you leg muscles with significant exertion without actually moving your legs.

To sum this up, most of the serious snow shoveling injuries are associated with a combination of maximum physical exertion and increased blood pressure while our blood vessels are restricted.

Thank goodness we have a solution for every potential problem. Preventing injury while snow shoveling is easy.

The following is a practical list of dos and don'ts:


1. Avoid caffeine because it will elevate your blood pressure and restrict blood flow to your major muscles.

2. Avoid a large or heavy meal prior to shoveling because blood flow will increase to your stomach instead of your heart.

3. Do not smoke before, during or for at least a half our after shoveling. For that matter … don't smoke at all!

4. Don't twist. The discs in your spine are designed to handle some flexion, extension and compression. Adding twisting under load to any of the above will greatly increase your chances of a serious back injury.

5. Don't shovel if you have heart or lung problems. Ask your kids or your neighbor's kids.

6. Don't throw the snow over your shoulders as this can put excessive pressure on your neck and strain on your shoulders.


1. Wait until you've been awake for at least 45 minutes.

2. Warm up your heart and other muscles on an exercise bike, elliptical trainer, treadmill or jog in place for 5-10 minutes.

3. Stretch for a few minutes to prepare your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.

4. Stay hydrated! Intense physical exertion at high altitude will dehydrate you quickly. Consider an electrolyte drink or a vitamin C packet with electrolytes.

5. Use a smaller shovel, or put less snow on your shovel.

6. Push the snow instead of lifting it.

7. Move your legs throughout your shoveling session. This helps to lower your blood pressure.

8. Bend with your hips and knees instead of your lower back.

9. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth because this will relax your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure.

10. Maintain the curvature in your lower back and neck because this will greatly reduce muscular tension throughout your spine.

11. Think of snow shoveling as a full body workout. Use all of your muscles. Break up your session into sets with a specific number of reps and rest between sets … just like training in the gym.

12. Take breaks.

13. Wearing a scarf will keep cold air from going down into your lungs, which can trigger angina or asthma.

14. Attend my free " 'Winter Body' Strength and Conditioning Workout/Workshop" this Saturday, Dec. 15, at 10 a.m. We will meet in my SpineFit Training Center located on the second floor if FitRepublic, 2565 Lake Tahoe Blvd. 530-544-4400.

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