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Safe snow shovelling this winter

It’s winter again! It’s time to bring out the snow shovel and clear the driveway. But snow shovelling is hard physical work. Each year, close to 12,000 people suffer preventable injuries, just from shovelling snow.(1) You can avoid hurting yourself by learning a few handy tips.

For example, Sandra is a new patient of mine. Every winter, she would have to get professional help for injuries caused by shovelling snow. After learning these simple techniques, Sandra says she can now clear the driveway with ease and without pain.

Top tips for safe snow shovelling this winter

1.  Getting ready:

  • Is it safe for you to shovel snow?
    • Talk to your family doctor to make sure it’s okay for you to shovel snow. Remember, shovelling snow is vigorous exercise!
  • Warm up first!
    • First, take a five- to 10-minute walk around the block.
    • Then, stretch your legs and your lower back for five minutes.
    • Finally, before you tackle the snow, do a few “dry runs” by practicing your lifting technique using your shovel.
  • Look the part.
    • Dress warmly.
    • Make sure to cover your hands, feet and head against the cold.
    • Wear boots that give you a good grip on snowy and/or slippery surfaces.
  • Are you using the correct shovel? (2)
    • Your shovel should be lightweight so it doesn’t add to the load of snow you are lifting.
    • Make sure your shovel is a suitable height. When you’re standing up, the handle should come to at least your chest. This ensures you will bend from your hips rather than your back.
    • The handle should be comfortable to grip, allowing your wrist to be in a relaxed, neutral position.

2.  Tips for Shovelling

  • If you can, push the snow instead of lifting and/or carrying it.
  • Keep your feet pointed toward the shovel to make sure you don’t twist from your back.
  • Keep one foot forward. The staggered stance is more stable.
  • Lift with your legs by bending through your knees and hips. Avoid bending from your back or lifting the snow using your back.
  • Keep the shovel close to you to avoid straining your back.
  • Walk a few steps to drop the snow to avoid twisting your body or throwing the snow.
  • Lift smarter, not heavier. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says you should not lift more than 10 to 15 pounds of snow at a time.
  • Shovel early, little and often! Start early in the day, then shovel often as the day goes on. Remember, light, fluffy snow is easier to move than packed, wet snow. Did you know? Light snow weighs about three pounds per cubic foot while packed snow weighs 30 pounds per cubic foot!
  • Take your time and take rest breaks. Injuries are more likely to happen when you are in a rush.

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3.  When in doubt…

  • Listen to your body. If you start to feel sore or tired, your body is trying to tell you it has reached its limit for the day.
  • Get help or arrange for a snow-removal service. Snow shovelling is very demanding. Extra help can make the task easier, more enjoyable and less stressful.
  • Consult your local health-care professional. Ask an expert to evaluate your form and give you pointers that are tailored to your needs.

References:

  1. Daniel S. Watson et al, “Snow shovel-related injuries and medical emergencies treated in US EDs, 1990 to 2006,” American Journal of Emergency Medicine, volume 29, issue 1 (March 29, 2010), 11-17. Found at https://www.ajemjournal.com/article/S0735-6757(09)00371-4/fulltext (January 24, 2021).
  2. André Gauvin and Trevor Schell, webinar: “Be Winter Ready: Working in the Cold & the Ergonomics of Snow Removal,” December 18, 2020. Found at https://www.ohcow.on.ca/news/webinar-be-winter-ready.html (January 24, 2021).
  3. Government of Canada, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “Shovelling Snow: OSH Answers Fact Sheets. Found at https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/snow_shovelling.html (January 24, 2021).

Author:
Emma Lis
Physiotherapist

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