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Snow worries, Keep Your Back Protected!

red shovel snowAnyone who has lived in Winnipeg knows that cold weather, ice, and snow are a big part of our year. It doesn’t matter if you love snow or hate it, eventually you’re going to have to interact with it. Sometimes snow is fun! You can build snowmen, have snowball fights, enjoy watching your dog romp around or engage in activities like skiing or snowshoeing! But whenever I see those first fluffy flakes floating down from the sky, the first thought that enters my head is “Ah, I should probably get ready to shovel”.

Shovelling and snow go hand in hand! It’s difficult to get around when snow covers sidewalks, and everyone has been a little bit late for work at least once because they didn’t shovel around their car quite as much as they needed too and they’re now stuck in a drift. Unless you pay someone to shovel your driveway, or have a heavy duty snowblower; Snow shovelling is always going to be part of your life as a Winnipegger, and it’s important to keep your back protected while you shovel, otherwise you run the risk of unnecessary injury!

Before we get to proper lifting technique, here are some other suggestions to help keep you pain free during shovelling:

1. Choose a proper shovel!

First and foremost, make sure you have a high quality shovel on hand. Choose a shovel that has a lightweight plastic blade, so you can reduce the amount of extra weight that you move. Shovels with adjustable or curved handles can help minimize the amount of bending you have to do to keep the blade on the ground. This allows your to reduce the amount of pressure you put on your knees when bending, and stops you from over-arching your back.

2. Warm up!

When we are cold and tight it makes our muscles more prone to injury. Help yourself out by doing a quick 5-10 minute stretch before you start shovelling. Make sure you get your blood flowing with some jumping jacks or jogging in place. Then move to stretching your hamstrings and lower back, and end by limbering up your shoulders and arms with a big full body hug!

3. The Ground is your Friend!

Avoid slipping and injuring yourself further by making sure you spread a little bit of sand or salt over the icy parts of your pavement. Wear boots with a good tread as well, so you can have the best grip possible while not having to worry about a sudden fall.

4. Pace Yourself!

Even if the snow piling up is stressing you out, it’s a lot easier to remove smaller patches of snow than large hulking ones. If the snow is very deep start by removing the top few inches all around instead of hunkering down and try to get straight to the pavement right away. Give yourself breaks when you notice yourself getting tired, and make sure you drink plenty of water. Use the breaks as an opportunity to stretch your arms and legs out to keep them in tip top shape.

Finally, make sure that you are engaging in proper lifting techniques.

Snowshovelling illustration
Try to push the snow to one side rather than lifting it as often as possible, but if you do need to lift your shovel we’ve included a visual example of what you should be aiming for.

  1. Always face the direction you are intending to lift, and have both hips squarely facing that way.
  2. When gripping your shovel, keep your hands about 12 inches apart so you have greater stability and minimize extra forces on your back.
  3. Keep your load light so you don’t have to lift anything that is too heavy for you.
  4. Bend at the hips, NOT your low back, push your chest out forwards. Bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles while keeping your back straight.
  5. If you absolutely have to lift a heaping shovel, grip the handle with one hand as close to the blade as is comfortably possible and keep the other hand on the handle. This may vary depending on the size of the handle and your arm length.
  6. Avoid twisting your back to move the snow to its new location, always pivot your full body to face the direction you are moving the snow.
  7. Keep the heaviest part of the shovel close to your bodies centre of gravity, and try not to extend your arms to throw the snow.
  8. Walk to the spot where you are moving the snow to put it there, rather than reaching and tossing.

If you do strain or injure your back while clearing snow; be sure to book a consultation appointment with Dr. Klassen. He’s a Winnipegger too, and is familiar with the struggles of snow shovelling. With years of experience as a Chiropractor in the St. James area he will help you get back to your happiest self… just in time for the next snow fall!

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