Winter storm season is upon us in Toronto and this means that your daily routine may include the strenuous activity of shoveling in the early mornings and/or late evenings after work. Many of us have shoveled snow before and can relate first hand on how much stress and strain it can put on our knees, back and shoulders. However, we tend to forget the risk that shoveling places on other body systems, especially our cardiovascular system. Winter shoveling has been categorized as a high-risk activity` for cardiac incidents, such as heart attacks or angina (chest pain). Individuals with such conditions should take caution and/or avoid participating in this activity all together. Those with pre-existing musculoskeletal injuries should be careful and take precautions prevent flare-ups or develop new injuries.
Before confronting the piles upon piles of snow, individuals should consider the following tips:
- Perform a warm up before shoveling. This can include riding an indoor stationary bike, going for a brisk walk or participating in an activity that will bring your heart rate up. This will help to prepare your body and muscles for the task of shoveling. Also, warming up can help to increase your mobility so that it is less likely that you will strain your soft tissues in the cold weather.
- Take frequent breaks. Take a break every 10 minutes or so to ensure that you don’t over work and over extend your body.
- Get other family members to help or divide up the shoveling into smaller stages/portions.
- Listen to your body. Pay attention to any signs of shortness of breath, chest/upper body pain and/or palpations. These can be signs of a cardiac episode. Anxiety, dizziness, and fatigue can also accompany these symptoms. Also, pay attention to soreness in your joints and muscles. Don’t push through the pain.
Having the proper equipment will also help eliminate additional stress that is placed on the body:
- Plastic shovels will be lighter than metal ones, allowing you to maintain proper body mechanics during the shoveling job.
- A shovel with a bent handle will help reduce bending compared to a straight handle shovel
- Small blades will help you avoid picking up large piles of snow, reducing the stress placed on the body.
Using good body mechanics will make shoveling less strenuous and minimize the effort you require:
- Appropriate hand placement on the shovel can decrease the amount of strength is required through the upper body. Keep one hand closer to the base, or keep hands 12 inches apart to assist in leveraging the snow
- When dumping and lifting the snow remember to squat with your legs, and hips. Avoid bending from your back!
- Avoid carrying snow in the shovel with your arms stretched out. Keep your arms close to your body to prevent strain through the back and shoulders.
- When you are piling the snow, avoid twisting through your spine and low back. Instead, turn your body and step in the direction that you want to place the snow.
For more tips, check out our blog post from last year on “Shovelling Smart!”. If you injure yourself while shoveling don’t hesitate to contact our team so that we can assess your injury and provide you with treatment right away. This will help to prevent a more serious issue from developing. Obviously, if you think you are having a cardiac event go right to your local emergency room.
Always be mindful of how you are feeling and what your body is telling you. Remember to prepare your body before you begin the daunting task of shoveling, just like you would for any other physical activity. Stay warm and be safe!