People tell Auntie Vicky that there’s lots to like about winter – especially if you enjoy snow sports — but she still insists that shoveling the white stuff is not one of them. In fact, thousands of Canadians suffer from back and neck injuries because of it, says Dr. Ron Nusbaum, director of Back Clinics of Canada.
The good news is that shoveling is a high-intensity workout, and uses all the major muscle groups. To avoid muscle pulls and strains, there are some simple steps to take, says Nusbaum.
Stretch before starting
Try shoulder rolls, arm circles, back and neck stretches, and overhead arm extensions using a light shovel as a bar bell.
Use the right tools
Pick a shovel that feels good in your hands, and is a the right height. A shovel with a fibre handle will be lighter than one with a metal or wood grip.
Cold muscles are more susceptible to injury, so dress warmly. Layer clothing and peel them off as needed to maintain a comfortable body temperature. Wear footwear with good traction.
Perfect shoveling skills
Keep your knees bent and back straight, holding the shovel handle close to your body no higher than your hips. Push the snow with your shovel rather than lift it. If you must lift, scoop small amounts using your legs, not back. Never throw the snow – walk it to the snow pile instead.
Shovel early, shovel often
Avoid waiting for the snow to finish falling before shoveling. Snow that’s piled up, packed on the ground or partially melted is harder on the back as it’s difficult to shift. Newly-fallen snow is lighter and easier to shovel.
While it’s tempting to get shoveling done quickly, it’s best to rest every 15 minutes or so to avoid muscle stiffness. Take the time to straighten up, walk around, stretch and drink water to keep your body from overheating.
If you have pain, put down the shovel immediately. Lie down for an hour with a pillow under your knees to take pressure off of your back. Ice the injury – rather than apply heat – to reduce inflammation — 15 minutes on and off. Then start slowly moving around again.
If the pain persists for more than two days, or if you experience shooting pain down your leg – caused by the sciatic nerve and indicative of disc involvement – it’s a good idea to seek professional help.
“The biggest mistake people make when experiencing back pain is waiting too long to see a professional because they thought the pain would go away,” says Nusbaum. “The longer you wait, the bigger the problem and the harder it is to manage.”
Picture credit: Filip Mroz