Most chiropractors can tell you that snow shovelling is a leading cause of back injury during the winter months. While most of these injuries are minor and temporary, that doesn’t mean it can’t put you right out of commission at this busy time of year, so it is important to exercise some caution when clearing snow.
Since snow shovelling is such a common chore it is easy to underestimate how much work it can be. Considering that an average shovelful of snow weighs five to seven pounds, it is likely that you’ll be moving around several hundred pounds worth of snow on any driveway-clearing excursion. Are there many other situations where you would do this without preparing for the workout you’re about to tackle? If you were heading to the gym for the equivalent exercise, you’d take along the appropriate clothes and equipment, would warm up, and be careful to use proper technique for the duration of your workout. Snow shovelling should not be any different.
Before tackling any strenuous activity it is smart to warm up with some overall conditioning, such as walking on the spot, or a stroll around the block if you can. Follow this with some gentle stretching of the arms, shoulders, back and legs so that your muscles are primed to work. Pick the right tool for the job, such as a lightweight pusher-type shovel. Some newer shovels have a bend in the handle that helps reduce the amount you have to bend over, and Teflon spray can help keep snow from sticking to metal shovels. Be sure to wear warm clothing and footwear with good traction, and be cautious of icy surfaces to avoid a slip and fall.
Snow shovelling is far less strenuous if you move smaller amounts of snow at a time, so try not to let the snow pile up during big storms or over several days. When shovelling, it is better to push the snow rather than throw it. If you have to, throw it straight ahead to avoid twisting and turning. When lifting, bend your knees and keep your back straight, using your leg and arm muscles to do the work. Using the back to lift a load, especially coupled with some rotation, is a classic way to hurt your back.
During your shovelling workout, be sure to keep well hydrated and take lots of breaks. Stop shovelling immediately and seek medical attention if you experience chest pain or shortness of breath. If you have back pain that is severe or persists for more than a day after shovelling, see your chiropractor.