Don’t put your back into it

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Gary Kean
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Shovelling can lead to physical problems if not done properly

Carole Delaney of Caribou Road in Corner Brook uses a snow scoop to remove most of the snow from her driveway, then a light push shovel to fine tune it.

CORNER BROOK — Winter has barely begun and most people have already done their fair share of snowclearing duties.

That includes Carole Delaney who doesn’t mind the fact she is well into her 70s and still gets out to keep her driveway on Caribou Road meticulously clean.

“I just do it for the exercise,” said the Corner Brook resident as she finished up her latest snowclearing effort.

Anyone who is expecting to be doing a lot more shovelling before the spring comes may want to keep a few things in mind to ensure they remain healthy enough for this sometimes rigorous activity.

Brad Luther, a chiropractor from Corner Brook, said there are several tips the Canadian Chiropractic Association recommends for snow shovelling.

The average shovelful of snow, said Luther, is about six pounds. This may not seem like much, but repeatedly lifting even this relatively small amount can lead to wear and tear on the back if not done properly.

“For snow, especially, you have to try and use your big muscles and keep your back neutral,” said Luther. “Bending your knees and letting your legs and arms do the work is the most important.”

Before shovelling, Luther suggests limbering up with a light warm-up, which might consist of a 10-minute walk around the house or up and down some stairs, and some stretches. The same thing should be done after shovelling too as a cool down from the strenuous activity.

Preventative maintenance is always good, so Luther’s advice is to not let snow pile up. More frequent shovelling should mean lesser amounts each time.

Using the right shovel is also key. Lightweight push shovels are ideal if the snow doesn’t need to be lifted.

“If you’re using a metal shovel, one trick is to spray it with Teflon so the snow doesn’t stick to it,” noted Luther.

‘Good for my back’

Back on Caribou Road, Delaney says she has the right instrument for her wintry chore.

“I use this shovel because it is good for my back,” she said of the light push shovel she wields in addition to her trusty snow scoop.

Pushing snow to the side is a better idea than throwing it, when possible. Pushing it avoids both heavy lifting and the abrupt twists and turns that could cause injury.

People should try to allot enough time for shovelling and take a break whenever they feel tired or short of breath. Shaking out the arms and legs during these rest periods should help recharge the muscles.

“We see injuries at the clinic all the time that are the result of people rushing through shovelling snow,” said Luther. “People have to go to work, they see a big pile of snow and they just overdo it and get hurt, just like that.”

Shovelling should stop at the first hint of pain, discomfort or stiffness, said Luther.

“You can injure yourself really fast if you push it too much,” he said. “It might not feel as severe as it will after, so you should stop if you have any indication of a problem.”

Luther said people should dress in layers when tackling the snow piled up in the driveway and walkway. That way, a layer can be removed if the shoveller gets overheated during the job.

Staying hydrated will also help maximize the snow shovelling performance. Luther said drinking water or fruit juice before, during and after shovelling is always a good idea.

Many people avoid the shovel as much as possible and get their snow cleared more quickly with a snowblower. But even using a machine can create physical problems if it is not done properly.

The key is to let the snowblower do its work and avoid unnecessary physical exertion by the operator.

“If you are pushing and pulling and trying to move the snowblower around, it could get you in trouble more than if you just let it go and cut through on its own,” said Luther.

Finally, Luther said anyone grabbing a shovel or even starting up a snowblower should be certain they are physically capable of doing the ensuing work.

“If there are any underlying health issues, you should check with your physician or health care provider to make sure you are healthy enough to shovel snow,” said Luther.

Organizations: Canadian Chiropractic Association

Geographic location: CORNER BROOK, Caribou Road

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