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Shovel Smart: Protecting Your Back During Winter's Snowfall

Updated: May 3

As the temperatures drop, a flurry of snowflakes reminds us of the changing seasons.  That beautiful first blanket of sparkling snow is a wonder to the eye but can be hazardous to your health.  Each year in Canada, there are numerous incidents of snow shovelling injuries, as well as slips and falls.  The tricky part is, that in terms of snowfall, we never really know what we can expect, so the best measure is to be prepared.  You may be wondering, what do we need to do to stay safe during the winter season?

As each shovel full is on average 5 to 7 pounds in weight, when staring down our driveways or walkways it becomes obvious that we are about to move several hundred pounds of snow.   Following these tips will help you to get the job done right and reduce the hazard of icy surfaces around your home. 

Pick the right shovel: The success of any job comes down to picking the right tool. Long before the snow falls, it is a good time to inspect your shovel. Ideal shovels are the pusher-type, lightweight shovels. Metal shovels can be sprayed with Teflon or even Pam cooking spray so that the snow doesn’t stick to them, making them heavier.

Warm-up: Before tackling this strenuous job, a warm-up is a great idea. A 10 - 15-minute walk followed by some simple stretching would be ideal. However, if you are trying to get the job done before you head to work or start your day, some simple stretches with your back, arms, and legs can give you a better start.

Dress for the weather: layered clothing is always the best practice for outdoor winter activities, as it keeps your muscles warm.  Specifically, designed winter athletic wear is an excellent choice that will wick away moisture keeping you dry so you don’t get chilled.  Warm boots with a good rubber tread will not only keep you warm but decrease the chance of slipping.

Don’t let the snow pile up: weather updates are at our fingertips with snow reports on the radio, tv and internet.  If the forecast calls for accumulation throughout the day and night, shovelling more frequently will allow you to move smaller amounts of snow.  Remember that snow is typically lighter when it first falls; snow exposed to rising temperatures or direct sunlight alters the state of the snow, making it heavier to move.  Similarly, snow left to melt turns slushy and can freeze with overnight temperatures making your drive or walkway an icy hazard.  Shovelling soon after the snowfall will decrease the chance of this happening.

Push, don’t throw: Always push the snow to the side and avoid throwing, lifting, or rapidly twisting with heavy shovelfuls of snow. If you can push the piles back as far as possible, you can make room for future snowfalls.

Bend your knees: if you find that you must lift the snow, bend your knees and use the muscles in your arms and legs to do the work while you keep your back straight.  Keep your feet, hips and shoulders in the same direction to avoid the temptation to twist and throw the snow.

Take a break: if you feel tired or out of breath, take a break. Snow shovelling can be a strenuous activity and every snow fall is different.  Take time to rest your arms and legs and stretch or shake them out if you are feeling tired.   If you feel any back or chest pain stop immediately.  If the back pain continues for more than a day, you can consult with your local chiropractor but if you have severe chest pain, you need to see a physician immediately.

Stretch and hydrate: When you are all done, take a moment to stretch, cool down, and change into some dry, warm clothes. Remember to replenish your fluids. Just because it's cold outside, being active still requires you to drink plenty of water.  

The winter is an excellent time for all of us to get outside, be active, have fun and stay fit.

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