Take care when shovelling snow

Duane Hicks

Rainy River District has received no shortage of snow in the past week-and-a-half and for most people, that means they’ve been busy shovelling and plowing.
But the truth of the matter is snow removal leads to back problems and other health issues every winter.
So what’s a person to do?
Dr. Clarke Allen, of Cooper-Allen Chiropractic here, said there’s a number of tips people need to keep in mind when it comes to snow removal.
“Don’t let the snow pile up,” he stressed, arguing it’s better to shovel frequently, removing smaller amounts at a time to reduce the need for heavy lifting.
“You always want to pick the right shovel,” he added, noting certain shovels are made for certain jobs.
For lighter snow, the best type is a lightweight, pusher-type shovel. By pushing, you also avoid twisting or turning movements that could injure your back.
If you’re digging out a snow bank after the grader goes by, Dr. Allen said you’re better off with a shorter-handled shovel that’s meant for digging.
“You don’t want to throw snow,” he remarked, noting the major factor in shovelling-related back injuries is when people have a heavy shovelful of snow, and then twist and throw it.
“You have to twist a little bit, but you don’t want to do it under a heavy load,” he explained.
As with any lifting, bend your knees when doing so and keep the shovel as close to you as possible.
Ideally, those shovelling should switch hands every once in a while and alternate which side they shovel to, although Dr. Allen conceded many people can’t do this.
Another tip is to take breaks, and space out your shovelling. Stop shovelling if you experience back pain or chest pain as the exertion of shovelling can lead to even more serious problems, such as heart attacks.
“Don’t go too nuts trying to get a job done fast,” Dr. Allen warned.
Another factor to consider is having proper footwear to ensure you have good footing on ice and snow. Having a grip helps prevent slips and falls, which can lead to all sorts of injuries.
“When you’re in the middle of removing snow, if you slip while [you] anchor and throw snow, you can easily hurt or strain your back just trying to catch yourself, or ultimately falling and landing on your back,” he noted.
He also said it’s always favourable to have a “game plan” and think ahead.
“Make sure that you salt or sand icy areas because that can ultimately help you in the future for the next snowfall,” said Dr. Allen.
“It’s just planning ahead.”
So does all of this mean it’s better to use a snowblower?
Dr. Allen said using one has considerations of its own. For example, a self-propelled snowblower is easier to push but can cause back problems in its own right.
“What happens is people get anxious when it’s coming up to a spot where they don’t want to be,” he remarked. “So what they do is grab it and try to horse it back, against the drive train, and you can hurt your back.
“Try not to fight against the snowblower.”
Dr. Allen said people do hurt their backs each winter, whether it’s while removing snow or slipping on ice, but can help themselves by increasing their awareness.
“[Winter] is something we can always enjoy. We have to, it’s with us for so many months,” he chuckled.
“But it’s just a matter of how you’re going to get around doing it.”