Family Health Magazine - ACTIVE LIVING
Safe Snow Shovelling
Here's the scoop
Most of us know that shovelling is very hard work and can severely stress the heart. Fewer people recognize the stress and strain that it places on the lower back. Back injuries and pulled muscles are among the possible threats to your health from using poor technique when shovelling snow.
Canadian physiotherapists say that shovelling snow requires as much energy as running 15 kilometres an hour! Fifteen minutes of snow shovelling can help a healthy heart by maintaining or increasing cardiovascular fitness. However, shovelling wet snow is like picking up heavy weights. One full shovel of wet snow can weigh as much as 25 pounds (11 kg).
Shovellers are injured every year from repetitive twisting, improper lifting, overexertion, or simply trying to shovel too much snow. Prevent injury by taking time to prepare and consciously thinking about how to move properly.
Shovelling can be made even more difficult by the weather. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, putting extra strain on the body. There also is the risk of hypothermia, a decrease in body temperature, if you are not dressed warmly enough for weather conditions.
Cold tight muscles are more likely to strain than warm, relaxed muscles. Take time to stretch and prepare the body for activity with a simple warm-up of marching on the spot and doing a few shoulder circles before tackling the snow.
The Canadian Physiotherapy Association offers the following tips to help get a handle on safe shovelling:
- Shovelling is not recommended for individuals with certain injuries and health conditions. Check with your family doctor if you have any questions, especially if you are not physically active.
- Choose a shovel that is right for you. A shovel with an appropriate length handle allows you to bend your knees slightly, bend forward 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands at the start of the stroke.
- A plastic shovel blade is lighter than a metal one, putting less strain on your spine. A smaller blade can sometimes be better than a larger one. You avoid the risk of trying to lift a pile of snow that is too heavy for your body to carry. Ergonomic shovels with a bent shaft are very good and have been tested by The Liberty Mutual Research Centre for Safety and Health in Hopkinton, MA. Research found that those who use a snow shovel with a bent shaft bend forward 16 per cent less than with a straight shaft. The heart does not need to work as hard.
- When you grip the shovel, make sure your hands are at least 12 inches apart. This will increase your leverage and reduce strain on your body. Always keep one hand close to the base of the shovel to balance the weight and lessen strain on the lower back.
- Lift snow properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Use slow movements rather than quick ones. 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.
- Consider the size of the job and split up the shovelling. In other words, after a heavy dump, don’t tackle the entire job at once.
- Proper footwear is important to ensure good balance and to avoid slipping or falling.
- Spray your shovel with a lubricant or silicon spray so the snow does not cling.
If you are injured while shovelling, physiotherapy can speed recovery, reduce pain and prevent it from worsening or recurring.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [AL_FHd06]