Snow shoveling is physically demanding work and can be relentless during the Canadian winter months. During the winter season, snow clearing is a common and necessary part of most people’s daily routine. On a morning where it snowed over night, you would get up earlier than normal, get yourself ready, eat breakfast, pack up a lunch for the kids and then head outside to dig out your car. However, if snow shoveling is done incorrectly, it can lead to slips, falls, muscle strains and accompanying injuries. Shoveling is so hard on the body because it requires a high-level of simultaneous exertion from the legs, arms and back.
Not only is shoveling a physically demanding task but 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 sudden cardiac death because of the demand placed on the cardiovascular system (Watson, Shields & Smith, 2011). People who live sedentary lives struggle with snow clearing because since it only snows one season of the year, their bodies cannot become accustomed to it in such a short amount of time.
General Tips for Snow Shoveling:
- CHECK WITH A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL: Sedentary individuals or those with pre-existing medical conditions should consider hiring somebody to shovel for them. Ask your doctor or physiotherapist before shoveling if you have any doubts.
- WARM-UP: Before shoveling, take a brisk walk around the block to warm-up the body. It is also a good idea to rehearse 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 throughout the snowfall instead of shoveling a large amount when the snowing has stopped. Shovel while the snow is still light and fluffy; the longer you leave it, the denser and heavier it gets which makes shoveling much more difficult.
Tips for Snow Shoveling:
- PACE YOURSELF: Shoveling is a physically demanding activity, so do not rush and take your time. Take breaks throughout the shoveling task and drink plenty of fluids to keep your body hydrated.
- PROPER EQUIPMENT: A bent-handled shovel can help reduce bending. 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.
- PROPER LIFTING MECHANICS: While holding the handle of the shovel, keep hands approximately 12 inches apart to increase the leverage. Squat with legs hip-width apart, knees bent and back straight. When you scoop the small amounts of snow onto the shovel, walk to where you need to go to place it down. DO NOT throw it over your shoulder or to the side because this twisting of your back increases your risk for injury.
There are several symptoms you want to be aware of while you are shoveling. At the sign of any of these symptoms, stop shoveling immediately:
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest/Upper Body Pain or Discomfort
- Sudden Extreme Fatigue
- Back Pain
- Shoulder Pain
- Repetitive Strain Anywhere on the Body
With any sign of cardiac distress, seek emergency medical attention.
With these tips in mind, you can decrease your risk for injury and have a safe porch, walkway and driveway. Keep warm and happy shoveling!
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, (2011). Prevent Snow Shoveling and Snowblowing Injuries. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00060.
Watson, D., Shields, B., & Smith, G. (2011). American Journal of Emergency Medicine. Snow-Shovel Related Injuries and Medical Emergencies Treated in US EDs, 29(1):11-17.