Avoiding injury while shoveling

After a few years of mild winters, we have returned to winter weather that is truly Canadian!

Like all of us, it is likely safe to say that you’ve dusted off your shovels and gotten your snow-moving muscles moving a few times already this season.

Here are some tips (from the Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety) to keep yourself injury-free while clearing snow from your driveways:

  1. Timing
    • Where possible, it is more practical to shovel early and often. Fresh dry snow is lighter and therefore more manageable than wet, heavily packed, or partly melted snow.
  2. Choose the appropriate shovel length and weight for you
    • Weight: it should be lightweight but sturdy – about 1.5 kg (a little over 3 lbs).
    • Length: the handle should reach your chest to reduce the amount of forward bending.
    • Shaft type: shafts with a bend (versus a straight style) may be easier on your lower back when used correctly.
    • Handle type: shovels typically have a “D”-shaped handle. Be sure the handle shape does not force the wrist into awkward positions.
    • Blade size/shape: choose the style that best matches the exact task. For example, a large push-style shovel will move large amounts of snow, but may result in lifting too much weight. A smaller blade shovel (25 to 35 cm or about 10-14 in) should be used for lifting and throwing snow. The smaller blade will decrease the weight that is lifted and decrease the risk of injury.
  3. Wear appropriate clothing
    • Wear several layers of warm, lightweight clothing that is comfortable to move in. The inner layer should be breathable, such as thermal underwear that allows perspiration to escape from the skin surface.
    • Make sure your head, (especially your ears), feet and hands are well covered. However, do not let your hat or scarf block your vision – you have to see what you are shovelling.
    • Boots should be water-resistant and high-cut, and should provide good traction.
    • Gloves should be light and flexible and give you a good grip.
    • If the weather is very cold, wear something over your mouth. Use a work/rest schedule if the temperatures are low or if it is windy.
  4. Warm up before starting
    • Do some of these exercises to help warm up your muscles and improve your circulation:  WARM UP
  5. Work safely
    • Work at a steady pace. Shoveling is going to make you sweat and, if you stop, you could get a chill.
    • Push the snow rather than lift it. If you must throw it, take only as much snow as you can easily lift and turn your feet to the direction you’re throwing – don’t twist at the waist. Do not throw snow over your shoulder or to the side.
    • Pace yourself. Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity comparable to weightlifting, while walking on uneven and unstable ground, and wearing heavy-duty clothing. Take frequent breaks and drink some warm, non-alcoholic fluids.
  6. Stretch after shoveling
    • Once you are done, stretch for 5–10 minutes to loosen up the muscles in the low back and hamstrings that were used during shoveling: COOL DOWN

Check in to our blog again soon for an upcoming post discussing some specific fixes for common aches and pains that can occur after shoveling!

If you’re having difficulty with low back pain after shoveling, come and see one of our expert therapists at EQ Physio for a free 10-minute consultation to discuss how we can help you. Our clinic is conveniently located at the corner of Dundas and Trafalgar in Oakville.