Canadians Cautioned to Lift Light and Shovel Right This Winter

By Charlotte Bumstead
Winter is officially here to stay and so are the hats, mitts and the dreaded snow shovels. In 2003, a Pollara survey of 500 Ontario chiropractors concluded that snow shovelling was a leading cause of back injury among their patients during winter months. As a result, Ontario’s spinal health care experts developed the Lift Light, Shovel Right campaign, urging Canadians to use safety precautions when clearing driveways and walkways throughout this unruly season. Toronto chiropractor Dr. Melanie Locke discusses with Zoomer the program’s key messages, as well as tips for avoiding back pain and the chiropractor’s role in injury prevention.

“When you think about it, each shovel full of snow weighs about five to seven pounds,” says Dr. Locke. “So to clear your driveway, you have to move more than several hundred pounds of snow in one effort.” That is a huge load for someone who is not used to lifting weights at the gym three times a week.

Improper lifting can lead to severe back pain. The back muscles are much smaller than the leg muscles, and straining this area can also lead to injured ligaments or disks. “That’s really important to prevent,” says Locke. “Once you injure a disk or have a muscle strain [it] really affects the quality of life, because it’s affecting the nerves that go through that area as well.”

The boomer generation should be especially careful of their technique. “As we age—if we’ve been having poor posture over the years—that little bit of things we do incorrectly over time results in a bigger problem,” says Locke. Those who exercise regularly, follow a healthy diet and maintain good posture on a regular basis are less likely to suffer injuries.

Still, it is important for everyone to take safety measures for smart snow removal. Even using a snow blower can cause injuries; as you are pushing the weight of the machine along with the heavy snow. Dr. Locke and fellow chiropractors stress the need for Canadians to develop a suitable technique by utilizing the following advice:
Don’t let the snow pile up. If the weather report calls for several days of snow, frequent shovelling allows you to move smaller amounts of snow at once. “When it’s snowing, I’m out there regularly,” Locke says. “I might be shovelling ten times a day, as opposed to doing it all in one scoop—that’s when people are more likely to get injured.”
Take the time to warm up. Shovelling can be a good workout and just like any other strenuous exercise, you should stretch beforehand. Do some overall conditioning, first—like a 10 to 15 minute walk on the spot.

Use a lightweight shovel. Pick a scoop shovel used for pushing the snow rather than lifting. Plastic is lightest. If you use a metal shovel, spray it with Teflon first to stop the snow from sticking.

Push, don’t throw. Avoid heavy lifting over high snow banks.

Lift with your legs. When you have no choice but to lift, bend your knees, not your back.

Remember to take breaks. It doesn’t all have to be done at once. When you feel tired or short of breath, be sure to stop and rest.

“If someone has back pain that’s severe or persists for more than a day after shovelling, they really should go and see their chiropractor,” says Locke. “If they have chest pain that’s severe, they should see a medical doctor immediately.”

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