Snow Shoveling is a necessary repetitive task that most Canadians have to participate in during the winter season. With any repetitive task, injury can be a result if done inefficiently. In this article, I aim to transform all of you into efficient shovelling machines to address this issue.
Below you will find three tips to make your shovelling form more ergonomic to minimize any injury to your back, so it does not interfere with your significantly more exciting winter plans.
Push, not lift. Work smart, not hard. Pushing a weight is significantly less stressful on your body than lifting. If the snowbanks on the side of your driveway are low and you can push the snow off, do so. No reason to work harder than you need to.
When pushing, keep your shoulders and hips square. This position places your spine in a neutral position, which is optimal for pushing and lifting. Injuries to your lower back tend to occur when we run into unforeseen twisting motions with a weight. If we look at how we are anatomically designed, the lumbar spine is made to bend forward and back (flexion and extension), not to twist (this is the job of our thoracic spine – chest and rib cage area). Choosing a shovel with a trolley like-handle that allows you to push with both hands as if you were pushing a shopping cart is a good tool for everybody to have in their garage.
If you have to lift, bend at the hips and lift with the leg; do not lift with the low back. Although lifting with your low back feels easier, it is incredibly inefficient, and it increases the risk of injury to the area. Bending at the hips will lower your center of gravity and engage the muscles in your buttock and legs, which are anatomically larger and can exert more force in comparison to the muscles in your back. Furthermore, when you do lift snow with your shovel, it is best practice to dump the snow directly in front of you. Again we want to limit the amount of twisting in the low back for the reasons mentioned in tip 2.
As a fun mental exercise, try to plan your shovelling route to reduce the amount of lifting that you must do. I was taught to start at the midpoint of the width of your driveway and shovel along the length of your driveway. Doing so splits the driveway into two smaller half compartments. Then, continue to shovel, addressing one half of the driveway at a time. Ultimately, this reduces the demand on your body by reducing the snow you must push and lift with each repetition.
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