One of the most common causes of back injuries during the winter season is snow shovelling. Think about this: a shovelful of snow weighs on average about 5 to 7 pounds. When you add up how much weight you have to lift in order clear the driveway, you’re probably looking at a couple hundred pounds. That is a lot of stress on the back!
Unfortunately, snow shovelling is a necessary evil in our world. The good news is that there are quality shovelling practices that, if performed correctly, will not add strain to your back, thereby making back injury preventable.
We’ve compiled some of the best snow removal tips below to help you prevent back injuries and pain.
1) Don’t Procrastinate
- Don’t let that snow pile up on you!
- Pay special attention to the weather reports, watching for calls of several days of snow
- Shovelling snow over a period of days will be far less strenuous and exhausting on the body long-term, minimizing strain on the back
- Don’t try to shovel full depth when it comes to deep snow
- Rather, gradually remove a few inches off the top, one at a time
2) Get Warmed Up
- Warmed up, pliable muscles are less susceptible to injury than cold, tight muscles
- Prior to shovelling, warm your body up for 5 to 10 minutes
- Take a brisk walk, march in place, or do any full body-activity to get your blood flowing
- After that, do some gentle stretches on your low back and hamstrings
- Finally, give yourself a firm body hug for about 30-60 seconds to prep arms and shoulders
3) It’s All in the Shovel
- Lightweight pusher-type shovels are ideal
- Select a shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length. These handle types will reduce painful, unnatural bending only requiring you to bend your knees and arch your back very slightly while keeping the shovel blade to the ground
- Look for shovels with lightweight and small blades as they minimize the amount of weight you are moving
- Spray Teflon spray on metal shovels before shovelling to keep snow from sticking to it
4) No Throwing
- NEVER throw the snow; ALWAYS push snow to the side
- By pushing the snow you avoid awkwardly lifting heavy snow shovelfuls which could cause abrupt twisting or turning movements
5) Ergonomic Lifting and Bending
- Always face towards the object you are lifting, squarely facing your shoulders and hips
- Make sure the bending happens at the hips and not the low back. Push the chest out, pointing forward and then bend your knees.
- With any heavy object, use the strength from your knees, legs, and muscles to do pushing and lifting. When doing this, always keep the straight.
- In the event of lifting a full shovel, grip the shovel with one hand as close as to the blade as possible with the other hand on the handle
- Always keep your loads light and do not ever attempt to lift anything too heavy or awkwardKeep the heaviest part of the snow shovel close to your body so it is at your center of gravity
- When transferring snow to its depositing pile, always move by pivoting your whole body to face the new direction of location
- Always walk to the depositing pile of snow, don’t try to toss, throw or reach
- Avoid unnatural and awkward twisting of the back
6) Mount your Feet
- Shovelling in slippery conditions imposes the risks of falls , slips, strains and further injury
- Make sure your shoes or boots have good traction ability to prevent falls or slips
- Increase the traction on your sidewalk or driveway by distributing rock salt, sand, or cat litter
7) Give yourself breaks
- If you feel overworked, tired or breathless while shovelling, stop and take a break
- You should be taking a 1-2 minute breather every 10-15 minutes while shovelling regardless
- Take those 1-2 minutes to stretch out your arms, shoulders, legs and back to keep those muscles warm and flexible
- If you experience chest or back pain, stop shovelling right away
- Consult your chiropractor if you experience severe or persistent back pain (lasting more than a day post-shovelling)
- See your doctor immediately if you experience severe chest pain
Schubbe, P. (2013, December 16). Snow Shovelling Techniques to Prevent Low Back Injuries. Retrieved from: http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/snow-shoveling-techniques-prevent-low-back-injuries
Ontario Chiropractic Association. Light Light, Shovel Right [pamphlet]. Toronto, ON: Ontario Chiropractic Association.