How To Shovel Snow To Prevent Injury?

By: Shaina McQuilkie, B.Kin., D.C.
Winter is here, and that means that snow shoveling may be in your near future. If you`re not careful, you could suffer from cold exposure, muscle fatigue and strain, and potentially a more serious injury, commonly involving the lower back. Shoveling snow can leave you feeling stiff and sore, but it doesn`t have to. Following some simple tips can help to prevent injury, and who knows you might even enjoy the fresh air!
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You may be dreading the task of shoveling, but keep in mind that its easier to shovel early and often.
Shoveling fresh, light snow is far easier, and safer, than shoveling wet, heavy snow [1].
Before you rush outside though, there are a few tips to help improve your snow shoveling experience and prevent injury [1,2]:
  • Drink water, and lots of it dehydration happens in the winter too!
  • Layer up dressing in several comfortable warm layers of clothing allows you to remove a layer at a time as you warm up.
  • Select appropriate footwear wearing boots or shoes that have solid treads on their soles will help to reduce your risk of slipping and falling.
Consideration should also be given to selecting the right shovel. Features of a good shovel include [1,2]:
  • Weight - light weight and sturdy, with a weight of approximately 1.5kg.
  • Length the shovel handle should reach your chest to help minimize forward bending.
  • Type of shaft an ergonomic shaft, with a curve, as opposed to a straight style can be beneficial for your lower back [3]
  • Handle D-shaped handles are most commonly used. Ensure that the handle doesnt force your wrist into uncomfortable positions.
  • Blade shape/size . a smaller, push-style shovel, with a blade size of approximately 25 to 35 cm, is ideal for lifting and throwing snow because it minimizes the amount of snow you can lift and thereby reduces the risk of injury.
  • Lubricant spraying the blade of your shovel with a silicone-based lubricant will help the snow slide off easier.
Warming up for five to ten minutes before you begin will help get your muscles warmed up and flexible, and reduce your risk of injury [4].
You want to get your blood circulating; a brisk walk is a perfect warm-up activity [2].
Before starting, be on the lookout for ice, paying particular attention to walkways and slippery surfaces, such as stamped concrete.
Intermittent thawing and re-freezing can lead to a build-up of ice under the surface and can result in slips and falls.
Throwing down sand or salt prior to walking on surfaces can help to ensure you have a good footing [2].
Now that youre ready to start shoveling, youll need to remember to pace yourself. Shoveling small amounts of snow slowly is less strenuous than moving large piles [4].
If youre able to, remove snow over several days to decrease the strain on your body and minimize the risk of injury [4].
If this isnt possible, remove snow slowly by taking a little off the top at a time, rather than shoveling the whole depth all at once [4].
Its also important to take breaks while you shovel, especially if you feel over-exerted [4].
Using a proper shoveling technique will help to minimize strain and reduce risk of injury.
Whenever possible try to push the snow rather than lifting it.
If you have to lift it, make sure you use a proper lifting technique [4].
Use your knees, legs and arms to do the pushing and lifting and remember to keep your back straight [2].
Avoid twisting; pivot your whole body to face the direction that you want to move the snow to [4].
Keep the heaviest part of the snow load as close to your body as possible and do not extend your arms to throw it; walk it to the new location and place it down [4].
Keep in mind that shoveling is physically demanding and isnt an appropriate activity for everyone.
Not only is it hard on your back, but it can also stress your heart.
Just like any other exercise, speak to your doctor first to ensure that shoveling is safe for you.
  1. References
1. Shoveling Snow. CCOHS. 2016.. Accessed January 18, 2017.
2. Lift Light To Shovel Right - OCA. OCA. 2017.. Accessed January 18, 2017.
3. Huang C, Paquet V. Kinematic Evaluation of Snow Shoveling. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. 2001;45(14):957-961. doi:10.1177/154193120104501436.
4. Schubbe PJ. Snow Shoveling Techniques to Prevent Low Back Injuries. Spine-health. 2017. . Accessed January 18, 2017.
This article, and the products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please see your health care provider before taking any supplements or starting a new program.

Shaina is a practicing chiropractor and freelance medical writer, based in Stoney Creek, Ontario.

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