Shoveling Tips From A Halifax Physiotherapist

Safety tips from Jamie Turnbull, Physiotherapist

Being a physiotherapist in Halifax, Nova Scotia means you see a lot of patients who injure their back shoveling. After experiencing an unusual warm Christmas day, we are now faced with reality… winter is officially here. There is snow on the ground and we will be confronted with having to shovel our driveways on a regular basis.

It is this time of year when we will see many people come in with shoulder or back pain from shoveling. While Physiotherapy is an excellent choice of therapy for these types of problems (and we’re happy to help!), the key message here is that a lot of these issues could be avoided with a little extra care and attention. Likely, a self-propelling snow blower is the best solution, but for most of us this is not an option, nor does it clear all snow-covered areas. Thus we must grab our shovels and be mindful and cautious of our movement. So, here are a few tips to avoid these flare-ups.

  1. ALTERNATE. Do not spend the whole time pushing, lifting, and tossing in one direction. After 5 passes at most, alternate your hands and go the other way. Too much repetition one way accumulates and causes repetitive strain.
  2. PACE YOURSELF. Bending forward for a long period causes prolonged contraction of back muscles. If you do not allow muscles to relax intermittently they begin to burn and ache. Therefore take intermittent breaks before feeling symptoms. Move in the opposite direction: hands on your hips and bend backwards a few times, next roll the shoulders back a few times, then resume your activity.
  3. BEND THOSE KNEES. When lifting the snow, lift with your legs not just with your arms or back. Get close to the shovel head to reduce the torque on your back, the closer you grab toward the shovel head the easier it is to lift.
  4. TAKE YOUR TIME. We often hurt ourselves when we move fast or are in a rush. Give yourself adequate time to get the task done.

If you follow these general guidelines, you are less likely to aggravate something this winter – we’re pretty sure simply having to shovel is aggravating enough!

Stay safe!