Snow Shovelling

shovelling cartoon

Your least favourite, most Canadian activity

Now that we’ve had (in the GTA) our first significant brush with winter weather, it’s time to reflect and ask the big question: did you miss it?

For most, shovelling snow is nowhere near the top of people’s favourite winter activities, and yet it’s something that almost everybody does. And despite how common shovelling is, few people give it much thought until they’re out there, digging away. A typical story tends to go like this:  a) the snow falls, b) you bundle up, c) you work and work and work and work until it’s done, only to see more snow falling in the freshly shovelled driveway, d) you wake up sore and achy the next day.

snow shovelling
via Flickr – Seattle Municipal Archives

Let’s break this cycle in two ways — by starting to think about shovelling right now, and delivering some simple keys to remember during this common Canadian activity.

1> Choose a light shovel

Your goal is to move snow, so don’t waste your effort on the shovel! As the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety points out, “[l]oad a shovel (over 1 kg) with 5 kg of snow (just about the average) every 5 seconds, and you move a load of over 70 kg in one minute. Repeat for 15 minutes and you will have shovelled 1,000 kg of snow. Such effort is obviously not for everyone.” So don’t waste that effort on the shovel itself!

2> Use a smaller blade

It might seem counterintuitive to your goal (get the snow shovelled), but a smaller shovel prevents overloading your back – and similar to backpacks, fatigue during snow shovelling may be a good predictor of injury.

3> Push, don’t Throw!

Loading a pile of snow, on a platform held away from your body, attached to a stick will quickly increase the total stress placed on your back. Furthermore, anytime we look to throw something, we usually add at least some twisting motion to make the throwing easier. Big deal? You bet. Now you find yourself bent over, lifting weight, and twisting to throw it — flexion, compression, and rotation of your back — the secret recipe for a disc injury!

shovelling no
This is definitely NOT how I recommend shovelling. via Flickr – Dave Herholz

Other Shovelling Notes

> Many of the same tips for raking leaves apply to snow shovelling as well: warm up first, get ready to work, use two hands, stay close and avoid reaching, and work from both sides.

Left good; Right bad.

> More specific? Use your hips and knees together to move the snow — try not to bend at your back. Generally speaking, you’ll find this to be easier if you keep your body more vertical (upright) during shovelling.

> Ergonomic handles can be good — especially for just pushing snow across the ground — but if you do require any form of lifting they can limit your ability to do so. There are so many varieties out there, sometimes it’s best to try a few and see which is right for you.

> Speaking of ergonomics, some newer devices have gained popularity which are supposed to make shovelling easier — such as The Heft. In theory, adding a lever to the handle of your shovel should absolutely make things easier during shovelling. However, I haven’t personally tried this device, so I really don’t have a position on its effectiveness. My primary concern would be attaching the device too far up the shovel (away from the blade), thinking the location of attachment doesn’t matter. In reality, the closer you attach the device to the blade, the greater your mechanical advantage should be. Food for thought, anyways.

> Snow shovelling often ends up being a form of vigorous exercise, which is good… BUT, if you’re not used to exercising, in poor physical health, or struggle with other health conditions, it is always a good idea to consult a medical professional before beginning a new/vigorous activity. If this is you, perhaps consider seeking the help of family or neighbours in the meantime.

> Finally, remain aware of your surroundings and listen to your body — be alert for frostbite, hypothermia, and fatigue. And of course, know the signs of a heart attack — as the Heart and Stroke Foundation points out, “[w]arning signs can vary from person to person and they may not always be sudden or severe.” Some of the most common symptoms are listed below, but if you are concerned at all about how you are feeling, dial 911 immediately and seek attention:

Signs heart attack shovelling
Warning signs of Heart Attack — Heart and Stroke Foundation

Dr. Jim Gilliard

Dr. Jim Gilliard is a chiropractor in Burlington, ON at Endorphins Health and Wellness Centre — located in the Burlington Professional Centre at 3155 Harvester Road, Suite 406. If you have questions, comments, or wish to book an appointment, please feel free to contact him at your convenience.

Phone: (905) 634 – 6000

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