Written by Florence Yip, Registered Physiotherapist
North Burnaby Physiotherapy and Wellness
Since Vancouverites are not accustomed to shoveling snow on a yearly basis we may not know the best strategy to use to avoid injuries. Here are some simple steps to follow to prevent a lower back or shoulder injury and a visit to the physiotherapist.
Preparation: Make sure you have good shoes on and prioritize which area you need to finish first. Having proper foot wear will help prevent pontential falls and avoid wrist fractures. Warm up your body gently by doing a quick warm up. Here are a few you can try.
This will allow the tissues in your body to warm up. Warm tissues are more extensible and react better to load. If you overload cold tissues they are more susceptible to injury.
Posture and technique: When you hold the shovel have at least 12 inches between your hands and have one hand close to the base of the shovel. This helps increase your leverage and decreases the strain on your body. Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Most people commonly lift with their lower backs instead of lifting with their knees. You may ask how do I stay balanced with my knees bent and back straight as you may feel like your leaning backwards. The solution is bend/hinge at the hips. This posture will look familiar as it’s the ready position for sports. Now you’re ready to move some snow. Step into the direction your are throwing the snow so you can avoid twisting your back and hold in gently your lower abdominal muscles. Don’t brace and hold your breath by over contracting. It should feel like a gentle hug around your lower abdominals and back. Keep the shovel close to your body as this will decrease the load put on your shoulders. Don’t overfill your shovel as this increased load may be too much for your body. Be careful how hard your shovel impacts the ground. A forceful vibration force is enough to sustain a stress fracture in your wrist.
Pacing: Muscle injuries are commonly sustained when we overload them with a new activity which we are unaccustomed to. Don’t rush and take your time. If you have a lot of snow to shovel, make sure you take breaks. During your break it is good to try to balance your body by doing some opposite movements. Since your posture has been bent forward doing a few gentle back bends will help counteract this.
Think about the 3 P’s (Preparation, Posture and Pacing) before you go out and shovel snow. This will help you prevent painful back and shoulder injuries during a potential snowy season in beautiful Vancouver, BC.