by Adam Brown
updated July 18, 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 injured themselves while outside shovelling the white stuff. So here are a few tips to make sure you are enjoying the slopes this winter and not nursing low back pain.
1) Push, don’t lift.
When shovelling snow push the snow to the edge of the driveway or side walk 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 lift or push 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 and discs of your low back while you lift.
3) Hips and Knees – not your back.
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) Footwear matters!
People rarely realize how important your footwear selection is when shovelling. The bottom line is that you need traction. If you are slipping around on a cold icy driveway you cannot hope to safely stabilize your spine when you lift. It can also lead to falls which often result in significant injury. So choose a pair of boots with excellent treads, keep your feet directly under you and shoulder width apart when lifting and take smaller steps on slippery surfaces.
If you follow these guidelines your chances of injury when shovelling with be greatly reduced. At Cornerstone our expert Physiotherapists are always here for you if you need help with your back pain….but we would rather run into you having fun on the slopes or at the toboggan hill.
Adam Brown MClScPT
Adam is an experienced and skilled orthopaedic physiotherapist with advanced training in spine assessment and treatment planning. He incorporates his own daily routines (including regular bouts of shovelling snow on his driveway!) into understanding the struggles patients face and keeping treatment relevant.
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