How to shovel snow safely

a person shovelling snow

Physiotherapists say that shoveling snow requires as much energy as running 15 kilometres per hour. Although 15 minutes of shoveling benefits a healthy heart, every year Canadians sustain injuries from repetitive twisting, improper lifting, or simply shoveling too much. It’s a job made more difficult by the weather: cold air makes it harder to breathe, which adds some extra strain on the body, and cold tight muscles are more likely to strain. Take time to stretch and prepare with a simple warm up of marching on the spot and a few shoulder circles before tackling the snow.

The Canadian Physiotherapy Association offers the following tips for safer shoveling:

Choose the right shovel. The handle is long enough when you can slightly bend your knees, bend forward 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands at the start of the stroke. Lighter plastic blades put less strain on your spine; smaller blades mean less chance of picking up a pile of snow that’s too heavy. Ergonomic, curved-shaft shovels mean less bending.

Grip the shovel with your hands at least 12 inches apart to increase your leverage. Always keep one hand close to the base of the shovel to balance weight of the lift and lessen lower back strain.

Lift the snow 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. Spray your shovel with a lubricant or silicon spray so the snow does not cling.

Step in the direction of where you are throwing the snow to help prevent the lower back from twisting and “next-day back fatigue.”

Tackle snow in two stages: skim off the top snow and remove the bottom layer. You’re working too hard if you can’t say a long sentence in one breath.

Take frequent breaks. Stand up and walk around periodically to extend the lower back. Place your hands on the back of your hips and bend backwards slightly for several seconds.

Dress well. Wear mittens (not gloves); wind-proof, water-resistant, multi-layered clothing to wick perspiration away; a scarf, hat and footwear with good tread.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2006 issue of Cottage Magazine.

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