Published on February 26, 2014
In Canada, snow shoveling accounts for a large part of our regular winter activity. Unfortunately, improper shoveling techniques can lead to increased stress to your back and that means back pain.
Did you know that a shovelful of snow can weigh from 2 to 4 kilograms? That means that by the time you clear an average sidewalk or driveway, you could have moved several hundred kilograms!
Tips To Prevent Back Pain Caused By Shoveling
Before you shovel:
Dress for it
Layering clothes is the best way to keep warm. Avoid bulky clothes. Make sure you wear warm winter boots with good grips.
Do some simple exercises to warm up the body. Five to 10 minutes of light exercises such as cleaning the snow off your car can be helpful and get your muscles ready.
Pick the right shovel
A smaller, lightweight pusher-type shovel is ideal.
Divide the job: Divide your work into smaller, more manageable sections. Shovel in one direction, and then alternate sides with each new section to balance the work and avoid repetition.
Don’t let the snow pile up
If the weather report indicates that snow may fall for several hours or days, shovel frequently so you don’t have to move large amounts of snow.
Don’t throw, push the snow
Always push the snow rather than lifting it or throwing it. If you have to lift the snow, keep your back in a neutral position, bend your knees and move the snow with your shovel.
Listen to your body:
If you feel tired or experience shortness of breath, stop and rest. If you experience chest or back pain or your breathing does not improve, STOP shovelling. If you continue to experience shortness of breath and/or chest pain, seek medical attention as required.
Take a break in between – If you have divided the shoveling work into smaller sections, stop after completing each, place your hands on the shovel’s handle and arch your back in a gentle stretch. Don’t over arch your back. Then, move on to the next work area using the opposite side of your body.
Cool down – Gentle stretching after shoveling, especially on days when the snow is heavy, is essential. Don’t forget to include your arms and legs in stretching exercises.
Peter S.Y. Kim BSc, DC, FCCS
Associate Professor, Director of Development and Clinical Advancement,
Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College
CMCC Campus Clinic, 6100 Leslie Street, Toronto, ON