Each year at this time the Ontario Chiropractic Association launches its "Lift Light, Shovel Right" campaign as shovelling snow becomes a more frequent part of our routines. However, similar to gardening in the spring, soreness and pain in the body can result from resumption of these activities. With respect to shovelling, commonly affected areas include the low back, neck, and shoulders. Not surprising if you consider that each shovel load weighs on average 5-7 pounds and that many repetitions are required. It all adds up! Shovelling can be a pain, both figuratively and literally, but here are some tips to reduce the risk.
First off, taking care of a few preparatory items is important. Wear good footwear to reduce the likelihood of a slip and fall as that can cause a multitude of other injuries. Layering clothing is advisable to keep the body warm and dry so you don't get a chill. Staying well hydrated is also necessary for optimal performance of an active body...even when it's cold outside and/or you don't "feel" thirsty. Ensure that you have an appropriately sized shovel for your abilities and fitness level. With a large shovel you may be able to complete the job quickly but you increase your risk of injury. And finally, warm up for 5-10 minutes by doing a few sets of stairs or a short walk before you start. A warmed up body, ready for activity, is one less likely to suffer pain and discomfort.
While shovelling, it is best to push snow as much as possible to limit both lifting and throwing actions, which are harder on the body. When throwing onto or over a snow bank be sure to not twist and turn through the spine but pivot at your hips and ankles/feet. With lifting, bend at your hips and knees, keep your back straight and your stomach tightened up (i.e. spine neutral and "braced"). Lower your bottom hand as close to the blade as possible which will keep the load close to your body, decreasing the effects of leverage and effectively making the load lighter. Also, watch out for icy patches. With thawing and re-freezing, ice can form which not only increases the slip and fall risk but it is much more difficult to remove. You can have substantial jarring when you push into an ice ridge with those forces being absorbed by your body. Depending on your level of physical fitness, purchasing an ice chipper may be a wise decision.
Other considerations to minimize your risk of experiencing pain with snow shovelling include attacking the job in small batches so you can recover between bouts. Recruiting additional help from your spouse, partner, kid(s), or a friend makes the job smaller and possibly even enjoyable. Maybe a snow ball fight breaks out, without ice chunks of course. 'Tis the season after all. Just make sure you don't hit the cars! Taking breaks, as necessary, can also help alleviate strains and fatigue. Furthermore, maintaining a friendly relationship with a snow-blower owning neighbour is not a bad idea. Paying for a tank of gas or some other simple, appreciative gesture can go a long way toward keeping your shovelling to a minimum!
Stop shovelling if you experience sudden or prolonged muscle or joint pain and consider seeing a health care professional if it persists longer than a few days. If you experience severe chest pain contact a medical doctor immediately. This article is for general information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional medical advice.