Healthy Healing 4 You

Dec 16, 2011

Shovelling Snow: Rules of Engagement

I know with the mild weather we have been having this November & December people might not want to read a blog about shovelling snow, but this is the best time to make sure you are prepared for what winter will throw at us while being able to avoid injury and stay healthy. So if you are not getting a local snow removal contractor or teenager to do the job I will tell you of some rules of engagement for staying healthy & safe when taking on the task of shovelling snow from your path, driveway or patio.

First of all the question you should consider is "Are You Fit?". If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or a heart condition that is affected by strenuous exercise then think of hiring someone. If you have a desk job with little more than trips to the loo, lunch cafeteria and the to and from your car or bus each day then you should be getting extracurricular exercise at least 3 times per week. That can be working out at the gym, aerobics, a sports team or something like dancing are all good ways to take yourselful out of the sedentary lifestyle category.  If after that criteria you still fit into the sedentary lifestyle category I will strongly recommend starting an exercise program and getting little Bobby or Jenny to do your shovelling until you are fit to tackle the job yourself or in tadem with them.

Now that we have determined we are now fit to shovel in good health let's take a look at the gear and accessories to make the job easier & safer. We often get icy conditions under the snow, so having assistance with good footing is a must. A good boot with grippy significant tread is good, but using a foot traction appliance is better such as Yaktrax or Stabilicers. These are pulled on to cover the bottom of your footwear with some metal sntraction device to dig into the ice and significantly reduce your chance of slipping. If you are not using a snowblower, then a good shovel that is relatively light and not too big a blade preferably with an ergonomic handle is a cheap but good investment. Having a winter coat that has pit zips and allows your body to breath combined with good layering of polypropelene or light wool layers is recommended. The layering allows you to remove clothing as you heat up with the activity. Having different mitts or gloves that can be switched depending how hot you are is also helpful.

The warmup before snow shovelling is often neglected and just like playing sports without warmups this can lead to injury or quick fatigue. A little dancing with the music on or doing this while making your breakfast is good or if you don't like that idea try jumping jacks or marching on the spot. Some stretching of the hip flexors, hamstrings, back & chest muscles should follow before you get shovelling. The warmup can include pushing light snow, but not if it is heavy wet snow or lifting. For the heavier stuff you should definitely be warmed up and ready, because your muscles are going to need the blood supply to be flowing with plenty of oxygen to keep them from fatiguing quickly from being cold & put under strain.

So now we start with the pushing of the snow down the middle and off to the sides so we don't have to take too large a load from one side to the other. When there is lifting that needs to happen, make sure to have a wide base of the feet and bend the knees with the back straight and the head up to keep the discs of the spine from getting loaded posteriorly too much to cause a disc herniation. An important motto to use with lifting is 'Keep the Nose Between the Toes'. Do not 'Twist throw' the load with the arms going across the body as this is a commong motion causing back injuries. If throwing the snow is necessary make sure to start the motion only and stop before the trailing arm crosses your body, just let the snow fly off the shovel from the initial inertia of the movement.  

Now that you have done a bit of the shovelling stop and take a break anywhere from 3-8 minutes depending on the snow conditions and the effort required. You have to think of what you are doing like you would exercise and if you were at the gym you would be doing sets with rests between, if you were playing hockey you go hard for a bit and then take a rest on the bench. We want to pace ourselves and enjoy not only this winter in good health, but many more so don't rush yourself. Just make sure you have given yourself extra time by knowing what the weather might be bringing. It will also be easier if you shovel early after a snowstorm to not allow the snow to pack.

Well I hope that gives you some good tips to be ready for when the snow really comes this year. Oh and remember to drink water to stay hydrated as no one likes you cranky when you have a headache or a muscle cramp later.


Dr. Mark Sweazey

^ Top