Safe Snow Shoveling
Snow season is here and there are probably a few Calgarians out there with sore backs from shoveling snow. This doesn’t have to be the case! There are safer ways to shovel snow so that you don’t hurt your back.
Your back is like a long lever arm. The further away you have the weight, the more strain it is on your back. Think of how much heavier a weight feels when it is held out in front of the body rather than at the side. This is because gravity exerts a great force on the weight and the muscles that support us have to work that much harder to counteract the effects of gravity.
Your shoveling technique is very important. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends: “If you must lift the snow, lift it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovel of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once; do it piecemeal. Shovel an inch or two; then take another inch off. Rest and repeat if necessary.”

Some other tips that may help you prevent injuring your back include;

  • Choose a snow shovel that is right for you! A curved handle helps you to keep your back straighter when shovelling. Get a shovel that is comfortable when your knees are slightly bent and back is bent no more than 10 degrees. A plastic shovel blade is lighter than a metal one, thus you have to lift less weight with each stroke.
  • Avoid a blade that is too large, a small blade can’t shovel as much, so again, the weight is less.
  • Push the snow, do not lift it. Pushing puts far less strain on the spine than lifting.
  • Never throw over your shoulder. This forces the spine to be twisted as you are loading it and places you at risk of injury.
  • Do a light warm up beforehand. One full load of snow may weigh as much as 25 lbs so prepare your muscles beforehand with some gentle movement to get the blood flowing to the muscles.
  • Take regular breaks. Remember that snow shovelling is a strenuous activity. If you are not physically fit, doing too much at once puts you at risk of injury.
  • Grip the shovel at least 12 inches apart. This increases your leverage AND will prevent you from stooping over to shovel.
  • Move with your feet, not with your back. Keep your nose and toes in the same direction!

If you experience any pain, stop and seek the advice of a Physiotherapist, Chiropractor or Doctor. You do not need a referral from a medical doctor to seek the services of a Physiotherapist. Immediate measures that you can take while you are awaiting a consultation include using ice; avoiding heat as this increases the swelling of an acute injury.
Additionally, stay as active as your pain allows you; complete bed rest is not recommended, however relative rest is advised. Relative rest means that you move and continue your activities but do not push beyond the limits of pain.
We hope you stay healthy this winter season. Should you experience any discomfort or injury, the staff at Optimum Wellness Centres is always available to answer your questions.
Jo-Ann Scott, Physiotherapist
Jo-Ann works at our Airdrie Associate and TransCanada locations