It’s that time of the year again when the snow starts coming down and piling up on your premises. You can’t help but wonder how millions of seemingly weightless snowflakes can accumulate so quickly and end up covering your driveway. Add a tad of moisture in the air, and all of a sudden, you have those tiny trifling snowflakes bearing down on your shovel!
Are You in Good Condition to Shovel?
Working outside in the snow is a strenuous activity that can lead to a number of injuries ranging from muscle strain to broken bones (from slips and falls) and heart attack. Snow shoveling can be risky, even fatal if you are not in good physical condition.
We at PhysioCore have several tips so you can avoid strain on your body and prevent injuries when tackling a snowdrift. Just like any home maintenance chore, the top priority in snow shoveling is safety, followed by comfort and efficiency.
Assess the situation and decide on the best spot to put the snow. Try to see if you can leave it in a mound on the side so you won’t have to do much lifting. If you need to shovel and move the snow, do so in the shortest distance possible. Try to push it along the ground first so you can pile it up closer to where you want to put it. This is better than repetitively lifting and hauling the snow.
Grip the shovel in such a way that one hand is on the handle, and the other is close to the blade. This will help you keep the weight close to your body when lifting, and it will also give you more control of the shovel.
It is equally important to use good posture when you are pushing or lifting snow. This means keeping your feet shoulder-width apart and squarely facing the snow that you are about to lift. Bend with your hips and knees while keeping your spine in a neutral position so you can effectively use your leg muscles. This will save your back from strain, and as you lift, tighten your abdominals to provide a natural brace for your torso. Move your feet instead of twisting your back when tossing the snow.
Lastly, stay hydrated, pace yourself, and take frequent breaks. If possible, shovel early in the day and do it in shifts to prevent the snow from building up. If you feel any discomfort, or worse, if you experience cardiovascular warning signs like chest pain, sudden shortness of breath, or lightheadedness, stop immediately and seek emergency assistance. If you need to regularly shovel a lot of snow, consider investing in a snowblower. If you are not in good physical condition to do regular snow shoveling, or if you are elderly with a pre-existing medical condition, you can always hire someone to do the job for you.
What to Do Before You Start
Wear Proper Clothing – Dress right to avoid any discomfort or even frostbite. Dress in layers, particularly up top, so your vital organs are insulated from the cold. For instance, to keep your torso warm, wear a sweatshirt, a long underwear top, or an insulated vest. This way, you will be able to stay warm and maintain your flexibility while shoveling snow.
Next, you also need to protect your head, hands, and feet. A significant amount of body heat escapes through the head, so it is imperative to wear a winter hat. For hand protection, wear something warm but flexible. It’s either gloves or mittens. For footwear, go for insulated socks and waterproof boots. To ensure that your feet will stay dry, pull your pant legs down over your boots and fasten them with elastics. This way, snow is less likely to enter the tops of your boots and fall to your feet.
Stretching – This is important before going out to tackle the accumulating snow. Snow shoveling is responsible for various injuries seen in our PhysioCore clinic. Stretching helps in minimizing muscle imbalances while improving your ability to shovel for longer periods. Bear in mind that the best time to stretch is when your muscles are relaxed. Do a body warm-up for 5-10 minutes to get your heart rate and body temperature up then start stretching.
Dynamic stretches are generally used before shoveling to prepare your muscles for the forceful movements needed to push, lift, or toss the snow. Examples of dynamic stretches include shoulder swings, arm swings, lunges, back rotation stretch, and leg swings. Static stretches, on the other hand, are performed to improve your flexibility and are most effective after you have completed shoveling.
Ergonomic Lifting Techniques
As aforementioned, try to push the snow to one side instead of lifting it. When it is necessary to lift the shovel, see to it that you use ergonomic lifting techniques:
- Always face the object that you will lift. Have your hips and shoulders both squarely facing it.
- Bend at the hips and push your chest out, then bend your knees and lift with your legs while keeping your back straight.
- If you need to lift a shovel full of snow, grip the handle with one hand, and the other must be as close to the blade as possible. Keep your hands approximately 12 inches apart to achieve greater stability and minimize the risk of injuring your low back.
- Keep the load as close to your body and avoid extending your arms when tossing the snow.
- Avoid twisting your back and always pivot your entire body when facing a new direction.
- Know your limit and if you experience pain or discomfort, stop immediately because the task may be too tough for you to deal with on your own.
Common Snow Shoveling Injuries
By far, the most common injuries we encounter at our PhysioCore clinic are the following:
- Neck pain
- Low back pain
- Shoulder tendonitis
- Lateral epicondylitis
- Wrist sprain
- Wrist fracture
- Intersection syndrome
- De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
Snow shoveling is a tedious task, especially if you are dealing with deep and huge piles. It is important that you assess the situation and ask yourself if you are in good condition to take on the job. If you decide to do it, note that safety is the top priority and consider the snow shoveling tips that we enumerated in the preceding section. By following those tips, you should be able to remove the snow safely, comfortably, and efficiently.
If you feel any pain or discomfort, or if you believe you incurred an injury, don’t hesitate to contact us. PhysioCore is one of the most trusted rehab therapy clinics in Ontario. We have gained a sterling reputation for providing outstanding care by being a multi-disciplinary injury rehab centre. We will work closely with you to ensure that you get back to your regular daily activities in no time.