safe snow shoveling

Safe Snow Shoveling Tips

Living in Calgary it’s a given that we’re going to get some snow. As I write this post we are under a snowfall advisory of 20 cm of new snow in the next 24 hours. On the plus side it looks like we might have a white Christmas after all. On the downside, we’ll be doing a bunch of snow shoveling.

Average Snowfall in Calgary

Days InchesCentiĀ­metres
7.7January6.015
7.4February5.715
9.5March8.923
6.4April7.419
2.6May4.712
0.1June0.10
0.1August0.00
1.3September1.54
4.1October3.910
7.4November6.517
7.7December5.915
54.2Year50.7129
30-year averages for total snowfall and snow days in Calgary, 1981-2010.

Common Injuries

Shoveling can be a pretty intense workout, particularly when there is heavy snowfall or a wet snow. Injuries are common. The following image breaks down the most common injuries.

Back injuries are the most common injury when shoveling snow. A combination of lifting heavy weights, repeatedly, with poor body mechanics can strain the back muscles. Other musculoskeletal injuries can include biceps tears and shoulder rotator cuff strains.

Heart attacks can be quite common too. Check out this interesting article that explains why heart attacks occur.

I was surprised to read that a staggering 15% of injuries were to the head. Please be careful out there and don’t whack yourself on the head with your shovel.

Safety Tips

With all these injuries it becomes important to take some safety precautions when shoveling all that snow!

  1. Do it when you have time. A few of the articles I looked at mentioned that often we end up shoveling in a hurry as we have other things to do. Trying to rush through the job led to loading the shovel too much, using poor body mechanics, and generally over-exerting oneself. Ideally you’d warm up your muscles first, and work at a slow, steady pace to prevent injury.
  2. Use the right tool. Get a good ergonomically designed shovel meant for snow. Proper shovels tend to be lighter than standard shovels so you lift less.
  3. Push more than throw. As much as you can, just push the snow aside creating a path. A well designed snow shovel with help with this too.
  4. Lighter weight and more repetitions. Don’t try to lift more than you can handle. Only partially load the shovel. This leads to more repetitions, but the lighter weight will make it less likely to over strain your muscles.
  5. Use good body mechanics. Use your knees to lift and keep the shovel close to your body. Extending your arms under load can lead to shoulder and biceps injuries. Keep your back straight and engage your core (those abdominal muscles support your back). Face the direction you want to move the snow because twisting while throwing the snow is the fastest way to get a back injury.
  6. Other good practices: a few interesting tips I found included dressing appropriately (layers, of course), waxing the shovel (so the snow doesn’t build up on it), take breaks (stop and admire your work), don’t eat a heavy meal right before or after (this can put extra load on the heart), and wear cleats if it’s icy under the snow.
  7. Stop if it hurts! This is a good practice with any physical exertion. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, so if you feel pain stop. Particularly if it is any of the heart attack signs (chest pain, pain radiating down the arms, shortness of breath, nausea, cold sweat, dizziness/light headed).

Find the fun in shoveling. If you are enjoying what you’re doing it doesn’t feel like work and goes by faster. Count it as your workout for the day. If you are unable to shovel hire the teenager down the street, or a professional clearing service. Got a neighbor with a snow blower? Maybe offer a trade of services or a plate of cookies in exchange for them doing your walk/driveway.

If you find that you have over done it and gotten a muscle strain check out the following article on how acupuncture can help speed up your recovery.

References

  • Calgary Alberta Snowfalls: https://www.currentresults.com/Weather/Canada/Alberta/Places/calgary-snowfall-totals-snow-accumulation-averages.php
  • Shoveling injuries: https://heattrak.com/blogs/homeowner/the-most-common-snow-shoveling-injuries
  • Heart attacks and shoveling: https://www.verywellhealth.com/snow-shoveling-and-heart-attacks-4131555
  • Safe shoveling tips: https://www.backonsite.com/safe-shoveling-techniques/