Snow shoveling is physically demanding work and can be relentless during our winter months. You wake up in the morning, earlier than normal, get yourself and your family ready for the day and then head outside to dig out your car. Your usually in a rush to get the shovelling done; however, if snow shoveling is done incorrectly, it can lead to slips, falls, muscle strains and accompanying injuries.
Shovelling is made even more difficult by the weather. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds extra strain on the body. Cold, tight muscles are more likely to strain than warm, relaxed muscles Also, because of the freezing temperatures, the body automatically constricts its blood vessels to keep the body warm which places additional stress on the cardiovascular system. As a result, snow shoveling is also associated with an increase in incidences of anginas, heart attacks and death because of the demand placed on the cardiovascular system.
Helpful Tips for Snow Shoveling
WARM-UP: Before shoveling, take a brisk walk around the yard for 5-10 min to warm-up the body. Also, it's a good idea to practice the movements you will be doing such as squatting and lifting.
WEAR APPROPRIATE CLOTHING: While shoveling, dress for the weather. Wear light and layered clothing so in case you get warm, layers can easily be taken off. It is important that the outer layer is water repellant to avoid getting wet and lowering your body temperature. Wear appropriate hats, gloves and scarves and ensure boots or shoes have slip resistant soles to avoid falls.
START EARLY: Shovel early, soon after the snow starts, even if it seems like it will be a long haul. It's better to shovel a lighter load two or three times separated by intervals of rest, than to try and leave it as long as you can and then struggle with heavy shovelfuls of snow.
PACE YOURSELF: Shovelling is a physically demanding activity, so do not rush. Take frequent breaks throughout the shovelling and stand up straight and walk around periodically to bring your spine back to a neutral position. You can also do standing extension exercises by placing your hands in the small of your back, bending slightly backwards, holding the position for several seconds, and repeating this movement 5 to 10 times. Remember to drink plenty of fluids to keep your body hydrated.
PROPER EQUIPMENT: A shovel with a blade made out of plastic will be lighter than one made out of metal, making lifting easier and causing less strain on the back. Using a shovel with a smaller blade will avoid the temptation to lift larger loads in order to get the job done faster. A bent-handled shovel can reduce bending compared to a traditional straight-handled shovel. Lastly, make sure the handle is long enough so you can slightly bend your knees and still be able to shovel.
PROPER LIFTING MECHANICS: using proper technique is just as important shovelling as it is when you are exercising or practicing your sport. Making the wrong moves can mean injury. Grip the shovel with your hands at least 12 inches apart, and keep one hand close to the base of the shovel. Positioning your hands further apart will help increase your leverage. Shovel with legs hip-width apart, knees bent and back straight. Scoop small amounts of snow onto the shovel, walk to where you need to place it down. Don't throw it over your shoulder or to the side because this twisting of your back increases your risk for injury.
*****A snow blower is a terrific piece of machinery but if not used correctly you can strain or injure your back. Pushing or forcing the equipment to go faster or harder is defeating its purpose - to do the work for you!
CHECK WITH A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL: Sedentary individuals or those with pre-existing medical conditions may be at risk of serious injury. If you're feeling muscle pain and fatigue, you should stop, and if you have any symptoms such as dizziness, excessive sweating, or shortness of breath, stop immediately and call 911.
Ask your doctor or physiotherapist before shoveling if you have any concerns with your health and shovelling snow.