Unfortunately, shovelling is one of the main causes of back injuries during the winter months. At Livewell Health & Physio, we see a variety of patients each year with constant lower back pain due to shovelling the snow off driveways, walkways, and sidewalks. The good news is that this pain can be prevented! In fact, shovelling can even be a great excuse to get outside and get some Winter exercise if you make sure to follow the proper safety measures. Here are some of our team’s best tips for practicing safe snow shovelling and avoiding lower back injuries this Winter.
Pick the Right Shovel
Let’s start from the very beginning: picking the proper equipment. Always choose a shovel and shovel blade that is appropriate for your body size. Although a larger shovel and blade has the ability to carry more snow, larger does not always equal better, faster, or safer. You never want to lift more than you can handle in order to avoid Wintertime strain and injury. Pick a shovel that you can easily manage and opt for a plastic shovel, instead of metal, that is much lighter to hold. You should be able to hold your shovel comfortably with your arms slightly bent and your back is tilted ever so slightly. It also a good idea to look for shovels with a curved or adjustable handle to help you minimize any unnecessary bending. These ergonomic shovels only require you to slightly bend your knees and arch your back while keeping the shovel blade on and parallel to the ground.
Always Warm-Up Your Muscles
Shovelling snow is not an easy task, so you need to prep your body for the physical activity ahead. To avoid tight muscles and injury, we recommend a 5 to 10-minute warm-up to stretch your lower back, hamstrings, arms, shoulders, and core muscles. Remember that cold and tight muscles are more prone to injury and should be warmed up to allow for more flexibility during any kind of physical activity. Warming up your joints and muscles not only sets them up properly for motion but will also increase the blood flow throughout your entire body that will help keep you warm once outside in those harsh temperatures. Our Livewell Physiotherapist team suggests doing some light stretching and cardio to target the parts of your body that will be most engaged while shovelling. Get your heart rate up with a quick walk or some jumping jacks and then do some squats, arm rotations, and yoga poses to really stretch out your legs, arms, wrists, and back.
Use Ergonomic Lifting Techniques
Always push the snow instead of lifting it, especially if it is heavy. If you do need to lift at any point, make sure your hips and shoulders are square to the snow being lifted. Bend at the hips not with your lower back and lift with your legs instead of your lower back or shoulders. Always bend your knees and keep them bent as you walk the snow to where it needs to go. Try to lighten your loads and never lift anything that is too heavy for you. Remember to keep your hands roughly 12-15 inches apart on the shovel’s handle to provide stability and lifting support. Try to avoid twisting your body and getting into awkward positions which can lead to pain and strains.
Keep Your Feet on the Ground
Ice may be hiding underneath all the snow, so you want to always be aware of slippery conditions to avoid slips, falls, or strains. Invest in a good pair of winter shoes or boots that have good treads to add traction while you are shovelling. You can also spread sand, rock salt, or kitty litter on your driveway, sidewalks, and walkways to reduce the likelihood of slipping. Be cautious with each step while shovelling and move at a steady pace instead of racing around to get all the work done.
Work Smart, Not Hard
Always pace yourself instead of rushing to get your entire driveway done all at once. Shovelling small amounts more frequently, instead of large piles at one time, is actually better for your back and can prevent injury. Take short breaks every 10-15 minutes to stretch your arms, shoulders, and back to keep them warm. If we have a particularly heavy snowfall this Winter, don’t try to remove all the snow at once.
With deep snow, remove a few inches off the top at a time instead of trying to remove the whole depth. We know that a lot of you will want to just get the job done and we understand that, but if you injure yourself in the process you will not be much help during the next shovelling session. Another way you can work smarter is to remember to hydrate before and after shovelling to keep your muscles at their best and ward off soreness. Ask for help if you need it – many hands make light work so always ask your family, friends, volunteers, or professionals if you need support. If you have the budget, you can also opt to use a snowblower to make clearing snow both faster and easier on your body.
We hope this blog helped you feel better equipped to tackle all the snow coming our way this Winter! Remember that if you do start to experience pain after shovelling, it is very important you seek help before making the strain worse. We have plenty of Physiotherapy Services (in Kitchener and Baden) to help you alleviate and prevent back pain – contact our team with any questions you have!
Want more lifestyle advice on how to improve your overall health and wellness? Contact our Livewell Health and Physiotherapy Kitchener or Baden teams to get more information and book your next appointment. You can also reach out to us by email or social media and one of our team members would be more than happy to help answer any of your questions! All of our practitioners have more tips and expert guidance to help improve the overall quality of your life.