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Man shoveling snow off of a walkway in front of a store
Man shoveling snow off of a walkway in front of a store
Man shoveling snow off of a walkway in front of a store

by Adam Brown
updated Dec 14, 2020

At Cornerstone Physiotherapy the first snowfall is both exciting and concerning. We love how our views of downtown Toronto and North York are transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland. And some of us are very excited about the start of another ski season.

But all of this excitement is tempered each year with a steady stream of patients who have flared up their chronic low back pain, or caused a new lumbar spine injury while outside shoveling the white stuff. So here are a few tips on proper snow shoveling to make sure you are enjoying the slopes this winter and not nursing low back pain.

1) Push The Snow, Don’t Lift.

When shoveling, you don’t want to have to lift the snow and ice! push it to the edge of the driveway or side walk with the shovel blade rather than lifting and carrying a load. It is a daunting task for even the strongest backs to carry a full load of snow on the end of a shovel for long. So make sure you push it to the edge, then shovel it in small amounts to pile it up where it needs to be.

Your local hardware store has lots of great shovels that are specifically designed for the big push.

2) Use those abs!

Before you push or lift any significant weight be sure you tighten up your mid-section with a little abdominal contraction. This provides stability to your spine and protects the joints, discs and nerve roots of your low back while you lift.

3) Use Your Hips and Knees – Not Your Back.

To reduce your risk of injury, be sure you are bending (squatting) from the hips and knees, not bending forward from your spine. The discs of the low back are injured from forceful forward bending and rotating. Many people shovel this way. It is important to keep the back straight and use those powerful leg muscles!

4) Choke down on the Shovel.

The further away the weight is from your body the harder you have to work to stabilize your spine. So get one hand at least half way down the shovel when lifting. This will keep the snow load close to your body and reduce the likelihood of injury.

5) The Right Boots Are Important For Shoveling Snow!

People rarely realize how important footwear selection is when performing snow removal. The bottom line is that you need traction. If you are slipping around on a cold icy driveway you can’t hope to safely stabilize your spine when you lift. It can also lead to falls which result in significant injury. So choose a pair of boots with excellent treads!

Heart Attacks and Snow Removal

The first snowfall of the year always leads to a few heart attacks. Often people do not realize how physical this task is. If you are someone of advanced age or you have significant cardiac risk factors, consider using a snow removal service, or purchasing a snow blower.

Here are some well rated local companies that you can call for snow removal

1. Burlington, Ontario

2. North York, Ontario

3. Toronto, Ontario

If you follow these guidelines your chances of injury when shoveling with be greatly reduced. At Cornerstone our expert Physiotherapists are always here for you if you need help. If you do find yourself in need of pain relief, give us a call and get a physical therapy assessment. We can reduce your pain and get you back to normal as quickly as possible.

About the author

Adam Brown

Co-founder, Physiotherapist Learn More about Adam Brown

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