Though we haven’t officially made it to winter we can clearly tell that it is at our doorstep. The snow will come and so will the arduous task of clearing it. If you are lucky enough to live in a condo or apartment, the act of clearing snow is all but forgotten but for those of us needing to clear, this time of year can be annoying to say the least.
Knowing you must complete your civil duty to help keep the side-walks safe for pedestrians and family alike and not wanting to be ‘that neighbour’, what are the best methods to complete this household chore in a safe and effective way?
Warm-up before you shovel!
This may seem silly, but if you go out guns-a-blazin than you are putting yourself at risk of injury. This is akin to driving to your beer league soccer game and sprinting once you have your shoes on. The body needs time to adapt to increased physical stress and direct blood flow to your arms and legs before you can lift or move something heavy. What kind of warm-up can you do? Try 5-10 minutes of a circuit like this: 20 seconds of body weight squats, 20 seconds of standing knee-to-chest, 20 seconds dynamic hamstring stretching, and 20 seconds of rest. Repeat that circuit 4-5 times. Impatient? You can also start by shovelling smaller portions of snow for 3-5 minutes before you try to lift a greater volume of snow.
It may seem simple, but wearing shoes or boots with high traction in these slippery conditions will help you effectively shovel snow and reduce the risk of injury. Imagine pushing a heavy shovel-full of snow from a stand-still on ice while wearing skates. In this scenario, you are more likely to go backwards than the snow will go forwards, meaning that your legs are not helping with the pushing or lifting process. Good footwear means a stable base of support and the ability to use your legs to lift and push the snow rather than using only your arms and lower back.
Yes this may be difficult if you are alone at home and/or have to work away from home on a snowy day, but if you have the luxury of shovelling frequently while the snow is falling you should take advantage of this. More frequent shovelling likely means the snow you are shovelling isn’t as heavy, which equates to less effort per snow shovelling event. Less effort means less fatigue, and fatigue is often the cause of injury.
If the snow is too heavy and you aren’t in a rush to leave, take a break. When was the last time you did a full-body workout lasting 20 minutes or more WITHOUT a break? Try giving yourself a minute or two before you continue, especially if you are feeling fatigued.
Phone a friend!
Shovelling with a friend or family member is a great way to tackle this chore. Alternatively, you can take turns shovelling if there are multiple family members in the household. Kids need chores, right!?
Lift with your legs!
I DON’T think it is the end of the world to infrequently ‘lift with your back’, with the caveat that the load you are lifting is light [read: tolerated by your back] and you are not repeating this task (…and let’s be real, you can’t avoiding doing this from time-to-time). What concerns me is the repeated lifting element which does occur when you shovel snow. So use your legs and brace your core. An engaged core will help transfer the power you generate in your legs to help you lift the snow (1). Science!!
Unfortunately not everyone is lucky and even when we take the necessary precautions we can injure ourselves while shovelling. If you have been injured or have concerns regarding your safety while shovelling, please do not hesitate to contact us to set up an appointment with your trusted healthcare provider. Highlighting and resolving pain, biomechanical issues, and strength deficits is something that can’t be done by reading this blog, so please use our expertise appropriately. Remember, winter is coming!
Jordan Fortuna, Manager of Clinical Services
Jordan is a graduate of the University of Toronto Physiotherapy program and has since been practicing in orthopaedic settings. He has developed an interest in sports physiotherapy through his many years as an athlete, participating in baseball, golf, snowboarding, and more recently rock-climbing, cycling, and strength training. He has worked with a variety of clientele including athletes from disciplines such as competitive dancing, running, rock-climbing, and mixed-martial arts, as well as non-athletes of a wide age range and ability. Regardless of activity level, he is dedicated to improving mobility, optimizing function, and strengthening to help achieve your goals through the use of an individualized exercise prescription and manual therapy. He also has additional training in acupuncture and sports taping.
- Kibler W.B., Press J, and Sciascia A. The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function. Sports Medicine (2006) 36 (3): 189-198.