‘Tis the season for giving, for family and for good cheer. Unfortunately, ‘tis also the season for shovelling snow. The reality for many North American homeowners is that winter is a time of endless tidying – you shovel your walkways, driveway and sidewalk only to be hit tomorrow with a fresh dump of snow. And not only is it a losing battle, but it can also be physically taxing.
Take a wrong turn with the shovel, or slip on the ice, and you could be looking at some serious back pain. Winter has enough annoyances without you having to worry about hurting yourself every time you pick up the snow shovel. With that in mind, let’s look at a few techniques for safely shovelling snow, as well as what to do if you experience shovelling-related back pain.
The first and perhaps most important rule of thumb when shovelling snow is to take it slow. It even rhymes, in case you needed a pneumonic device: “Shovelling snow? Take it slow!”. Often, shovelling injuries are caused by carelessness, people trying to get an annoying job done quickly so that they can head back inside to the warmth. Take your time, be methodical and careful with your movements; if it takes a few more minutes, so be it – at least you’ll be safe.
Next, it pays to treat snow shovelling like any other form of strenuous exercise. That is, prepare for it by stretching and warming up. If you experience back pain already, you likely know that one of the benefits of regular chiro visits is that they advise you on proper stretching and exercising techniques. If you don’t suffer from back pain currently, but you are still worried about shoveling-related injury, it’s wise to consult with a chiropractor. They’ll send you off with a few pre-shovel exercises and stretches, as well as advise on how to shovel properly.
Speaking of shoveling properly: as with other forms of lifting (and, yes, shoveling can be a form of lifting) it’s best to do it with your legs, as opposed to your back. That said, if you can avoid lifting entirely, and instead push the snow, that would be preferable; there are even shovels made specifically for pushing snow.
Regardless of whether you lift or push though, make it a habit to turn your feet in the direction of where you are putting the snow. Twisting at the waist (which you see people do often) can cause you to overstretch and tear muscles around your spine, causing inflammation, spasms and pain.
Finally, choosing a shovel is important when looking to minimize the risk of shoveling-related back pain. While some expound the benefits of a longer handle for your shovel, citing the fact that it requires less bending and maneuvering, others believe that a shorter handle is better, seeing as you get better stability when moving the snow aside. This is a question that is ultimately best answered by you and your chiropractor, as the answer can change based on the individual.
In summary, while the snow on your driveway may be inevitable, the accompanying back pain and injury certainly is not. Take it slow, shovel safely and consult with a chiropractor.