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Snowmageddon: A Guide to Safe Shoveling

Dressed in three layers under a parka, warm mittens, a hat and snow boots, you open the

door; ready to face the winter air. Sound familiar?


No Canadian is a stranger to the aftermath of a snowstorm. Kids are outside playing in the snow, tobogganing, having snowball fights. It’s beautiful, like a scene out of a movie! Then you remember, the moment you’ve been dreading, you have to shovel your driveway.

Shoveling is not a very enjoyable activity. It can be even less enjoyable when you don’t do it properly. Without the proper technique and preparation, shoveling can cause back pain or injury as well as worsen previous back injuries.

Here are some tips and tricks to avoid back pain/injury and risk of slips or falls while shoveling:

Pick The Right Shovel

Having the right shovel can help minimize back pain by reducing bending at the waist and twisting of the spine. Some attributes of an ergonomic shovel include: lightweight, sturdy, adjustable shaft lengths, curved shaft, and a metal edge.

Dress Appropriately

Wearing layers under water-repellent winter outerwear (jackets, snowpants) will help keep the body warm. Staying warm while shoveling is very important as it will allow for optimal blood flow and oxygen supply to active muscles. Having a good pair of winter boots is also important, as it will minimize the risk of slipping.

It’s All About Form

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and facing forward, holding the shovel with one hand on the handle and the other about midway down the shaft. Keep your back straight at all times, bending at the hips and using your legs to lift the snow while tightening your core. When dumping the snow, pivot your entire body rather than simply twisting the spine. Keep the load close to your body and minimize arm movement. Utilizing your entire body will alleviate the stress on your back and reduce risk of injury.

Don’t Take On Too Much at Once

Trying to shovel 40 cm of snow all at once will substantially increase your risk of back pain and injury. If you know there is going to be a large amount of snowfall, try to shovel periodically through the snowstorm. This way, you will only have to shovel a few centimetres at a time. If you do have to shovel through deep snow, shave off small amounts (3-5 cm) at a time.

Take Breaks!

You don’t need to finish it all in one go. Take breaks every 10-15 minutes, especially if you are prone to back pain. Use this time to rehydrate and stretch out your muscles.


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