Protecting your Back when Shoveling


Calgary received a (mostly unwelcome) blast of winter on October 2nd this year. It is said it was the most snow in 60+ years. As Calgary has before, we rallied and as I look out my window right now, main roads are mostly dry, the bright sun has melted a ton of it already and it actually is quite pretty.

If you are one of the unlucky one’s needing to shovel through the piles of snow, you already know how much work it can be. I’ve written other blogs on shoveling safety in the past so for this quick note, I wanted to make a few key highlights as a reminder to keep your back safe throughout this upcoming season.

  • Treat shoveling like a sport. Ok you may need to use your imagination for this if you’re trying to find the “fun” in this…and by no means am I implying it should be a race. What I mean is to ensure you are warmed up. Gentle twists side to side, lunges, side bends, should all feel ok and will help to warm-up your tissues that you are going to call upon to help you.

  • Wear adequate footwear. If your shoes do not have much grip, a lot of your muscle use and energy will be directed to keep you upright. You will be more tense and more prone for injury when you add shoveling to the mix. You want to be warm and relaxed to set you up for success.

  • I know its cold out and often a job you want to get over-with, but shoveling smaller amounts at a time (both in terms of area and how much snow is on your shovel) will reduce the load over time.

  • Often we will lunge with our dominant leg which means we are twisting to the same side with every shovel. Try to be mindful of switching what leg is stepping forward so you get twists to both sides

  • If you have back pain or prone to back issues, ask for help. If your neighbour is elderly or injured, offer to help. Sometimes the damage that we incur isn’t from the one event/ snow fall but the cumulative micro traumas effect over the course of the season. If you have the means, paying a company or neighbour to maintain your sidewalks may be worth it!

The healthier your spine and body is now, will have a huge effect on how resilient you are to all the unexpected events that can come with winter sports, shoveling, slips or falls. Of course if the unfortunate does happen, get checked by your Chiropractor!

Safe Shoveling: Preventing Injury

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As I write this I am looking out my office window and it appears to be more spring-like outside than late November. Alas, the snow has made an appearance and will again so it is important to protect our spines when taking on this sometimes arduous chore of shoveling.

The Canadian Chiropractic Association has 5 tips on shoveling safely this winter season. The Alberta Chiropractic Association and College also offers some highlights on shoveling techniques and even the type of shovel that can be more spine-safe.  In addition to these tips, I tell my practice members to treat shoveling like a workout (because it definitely can be as strenuous as one).

1. Warm up with movement (not static stretches) that mimic the motions needed for shoveling. Some air squats, hip circles and twists can be a gentle way to warm up the back and hips.

2. Breathe. Holding our breath upon inhale or exhale can offer some helpful bracing for the spine, however we want to be sure we are breathing as steady as possible. Often when people get lightheaded it is due to lack of oxygen to the brain so we want to ensure we have a steady flow of oxygen.

3. Hydrate. On a hot summer day it can be more intuitive to have some clean water on hand to rehydrate but when we are cold and bundled up we can forget this important step. The heavier we breathe, the more we sweat, the more water we lose. Maintaining adequate hydration will help keep our tissues healthy and resilient, and will help us recover faster from the exertion.

4. Move mindfully and stretch when complete (here is where static stretches should be used). Although it is tempting to just get all the shoveling over-with, be ok with taking breaks. We often injure ourselves when we are tired, so be mindful of using your legs when lifting, and moving mindfully instead of moving with momentum. The smallest of things can be what prevents injury this winter and allows you to keep moving. Static stretches are those we hold in one place for 30 or so seconds. Again, moving through spinal rotation, hips, neck and shoulders can help to reduce accumulated tension in the body and slow the heart rate down.

Look at shoveling as another opportunity to add movement to your day! Keep active this winter and stay safe. For further information on how to optimize your spinal health or in the event you are faced with an injury, contact me to schedule a consultation.