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5 Back Healthy Shoveling Tips

Hey, we live in Canada, right? As the winter months approach it is always a good idea to refresh your shoveling skills to protect your back. As therapists we see lots of patients with injured backs from shoveling every winter. Here are some tips to protect yourself!

But first of all – always keep in mind that shovelling snow involves strenuous effort and it is recommended that you talk to your doctor before taking on the task of shoveling snow. For older people and/or persons with a history of back or heart problems it may be best to avoid this job altogether. Ask your doctor if shoveling is safe for you.

Even for the physically fit warm-up exercises before starting to shovel snow is highly recommended. Flexing and stretching exercises warm and loosen the muscles and prepare them for the job ahead. Take ten minutes to limber up.

Before going out to shovel it is a good idea to make sure that you have dressed appropriately.

  • It is recommended you wear several layers of warm lightweight clothing that is comfortable to move in. The inner layer should be breathable or thermal underwear that allows perspiration to escape from the skin surface.
  • Make sure your head, (especially your ears), feet and hands are well covered. But don’t let your hat or scarf block your vision – you have to see what you are shovelling after all!
  • Boots should be water-resistant and high-cut, and also provide good traction.
  • Gloves should be light and flexible and give you a good grip.
  • If it is really cold, wear something over your mouth.

Here they are! Back Healthy Snow Shoveling Tips:

1. Don’t Let Snow Pile Up

If the weather report calls for several days of snow, frequent shovelling will allow you to move smaller amounts of snow after each snowfall.

2. Pick the Right Shovel

Use a lightweight push shovel wherever possible. Reducing the weight of the shovel, which is unproductive weight, increases shovelling efficiency. ldeally the shovel shaft should have a strong and light construction. Fibreglass shafts and/or handles are often lighter and stronger than traditional wood shafts.

3. Push, Don’t Throw

Push the snow to the side rather than throwing it. This way, you avoid lifting heavy shovelfuls of snow, and abrupt twists or turns that may result in injury.

4. Bend Your Knees

If you need to lift shovelfuls of snow, bend your knees, and use your leg and arm muscles to do the work, while keeping your back straight.

5. Take a Break

If you feel tired or short of breath, stop and take a break. Shake out your arms and legs to recharge. The length of the rest break depends on many factors. Since most shovelling is done outdoors, consideration for the prevailing conditions is very important. In the more extreme conditions such as when it is very cold and windy, a maximum of 15 minutes of shovelling should be followed by 15 minutes of rest.

And here are some other great ways to stay comfortable during and after shoveling –

  • Layer your clothing. You will want to adapt to the changes in your body temperature. As you warm up simply remove a layer or two to remain comfortable.
  • Stay Hydrated. Even though it’s cold outside, your body still needs plenty of fluids. Be sure to drink lots of water or fruit juice before, during and after shovelling. Remember – if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
  • Take it Slow. Rest when you feel tired or short of breath. Stop shovelling if you experience sudden or prolonged joint or muscle pain.
  • After you’ve finished shovelling, cool down by taking a walk and stretching out tense muscles.

The  5 Back Healthy Shovelling Tips are recommended by the Canadian Chiropractic Association. If you have hurt your back when shoveling, reach out to the team at InMotion Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre for best treatment options and relief.

Note: The practical suggestions in this blog are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor.


Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/shovel.html

Canadian Chiropractic Association Canadian Chiropractic Association

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