With winter comes snow, and with snow comes the daunting task of shoveling sidewalks and driveways.
And while it’s a task all homeowners have to take on, Dr. Ron Nusbaum, director of Back Clinics of Canada in Vaughan, Ont., says most people don’t take the job seriously in terms of their health.
“It’s never a big issue until you hurt yourself,” he tells Global News. “People need to understand the basic mechanics of bending and twisting [their body].”
READ MORE: Should you be shoveling the snow?
Nusbaum adds that even if people do have pain, strains or any injuries following shoveling, they often ignore the problem and think it will go away on its own.
He says if pain persists for more than two days, or if you experience shooting pain down your leg (caused by the sciatic nerve), talk to an expert right away.
“The longer you wait, the bigger the problem and the harder it is to manage.”
And if it happens while you are shoveling, the first thing you should do is stop.
“Get off your feet, lie down for an hour and place a pillow under your knees to take pressure off of your back. Ice the injury to reduce inflammation, 15 minutes on and off … after that, it’s important to move around to avoid losing muscle strength and causing more damage,” he added in a statement.
According to the Capital District Health Authority (CDHA) in Halifax, snow shoveling in 2015 (and Nusbaum says this happens every year), sent more patients to emergency rooms with heart attacks.
The CDHA notes that year, the ER usually saw one heart attack patient per day, but after a snow storm, this increased to three patients per day.
Below, Nusbaum shares seven ways to keep your back safe when you shovel.
Get the right gear
Find a shovel with a fibre handle. It’s lighter and less strenuous to use than one with a metal or wooden grip, he says. “A steel rather than plastic edge is also preferred as it’s less likely to break and cause accidents. If you buy a good shovel, it should last 10 to 20 years.”
Don’t just show up in your pajamas and winter boots and start shoveling. Cold muscles are more susceptible to injury, so always dress for the weather, he adds.
Wear multiple layers and if you do warm up, take them off one by one. Avoid wearing running shoes and find a pair of boots with a good grip (you should have these for winter anyway).
Focus on your skills
“Keep your knees bent and back straight, holding the shovel handle close to your body, no higher than your hips. Push the snow with your shovel rather than lift it,” he says.
If you have to lift snow — and snow can get very heavy — start with small amounts using your legs. And don’t just throw the snow into a pile, walk over to it and put down the snow instead.
Pick the right time
Nusbaum says some people wait until snow piles up to avoid shoveling multiple times, but he suggests doing it in the morning.
READ MORE: Shovelling is the new Montreal workout
“Snow that’s piled up, packed on the ground or partially melted is harder on the back as it’s difficult to maneuver. Newly fallen snow is lighter and easier to shovel.”
Stretch before and after
Lift your arms up over your head and stretch. Make sure you are doing this before and after you shovel the snow. “This way, your muscles aren’t shocked before you go out.”
Most of us want to get this task over and done with, but going slow and taking breaks should be mandatory, he adds.
“Take the time to straighten up, walk around, stretch and drink water to keep your body from overheating.”
Know your body
If you’re dealing with a previous back injury or you’re at an age that you shouldn’t be shoveling in the first place, don’t. Ask for help, hire a shoveling service or invest in a snowblower.