Snow Shovelling 101

“Well Doc, it started when I was shovelling snow and I felt a twinge in my back.” This is a commonly heard statement in chiropractic offices during the winter months. Thankfully, there has only been a few snow falls to this point, but here are some important tips to help keep you safe if the winter snowfall begins to pick up.

  1. Before you start, be sure to drink plenty of water. We often don’t realize that we are getting dehydrated in the colder weather.
  2. Dress in layers so you can remove them as you heat up. As sweat builds up it’s easy to get chilled.
  3. Wear proper footwear. Footwear with good traction can lessen the chance of slips and falls.
  4. Use a good shovel. A lightweight, non-stick, push-style shovel is best. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow. A shovel with a curved handle (ergonomically designed) does lessen the strain on your back.
  5. Spraying the blade with a silicone lubricant will help the snow slide off more easily.
  6. Warm up for a few minutes before you start. A short walk is a good idea.

When you do start to shovel, push the snow to the side and avoid lifting and throwing whenever possible. If you do have to lift, avoid twisting and turning. It’s often when we twist while our spine is under load that injuries happen. A common phrase we use to help remind patients is to, “keep your nose between your toes.” It is also important to bend your knees and use your legs to generate power when lifting. Keep your back straight and use the large strong muscles of our legs and hips. As soon as your back starts to round (also known as losing the lordosis) the spine is in a much weaker and more vulnerable position. It is also important to watch for slippery and icy conditions while shovelling. A good majority of injuries in the winter occur from slips and falls.

If you do happen to hurt your back, here are a few emergency first aid tips. First and most importantly stop what you are doing immediately. The problem will not get better from ignoring it. Even a small twinge while you are active and warmed up could potentially turn into a big problem once you cool down. Try to find a pain-relieving position as soon as possible. A good position for lower back pain is often to lay on your back with your knees bent. Apply ice to the painful area. Ice is important in the early stages to help control the inflammatory response that occurs with an injury. Applying heat at this stage may increase the inflammatory response and make things worse.

If the pain is severe or persists for more than 48 hours it is probably time to get some help. A good first step would be to call a chiropractor or physiotherapist. These professionals are well trained and educated to diagnose and treat back pain. Through a careful and thorough history and physical examination, they will be able to determine the origin of your pain and initiate appropriate treatment to get you better faster while lessening the chance of the pain persisting and becoming chronic. Often long-term suggestions regarding lifestyle, exercises and proper spinal care when working will help you to be even better than before the injury.

Snow shovelling is a necessary chore during the winter months. It can actually be a decent form of activity and exercise, but it is important to be careful and approach it intelligently. Follow the above steps as outlined and also take your time. As much as we all want to “just get it done”, taking frequent breaks is also an excellent idea. Also, remember that snow shovelling is the cause of many heart attacks during the winter months, so take it easy and monitor how you are feeling. If you experience chest pain or other symptoms that may be consistent with a cardiac event seek medical attention immediately. Let’s all be safe this winter season!