REHAB IN MOTION: Stay out of the hospital this holiday season

Thousands of people annually in North America are treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, clinics and other medical settings for injuries that happened while shovelling or removing ice and snow. There are several simple strategies you can use to keep yourself out of this group of people this year.

Cold, tight muscles are more prone to injury than warmed up, flexible muscles. Do yourself a favour by warming up for five to ten minutes before shovelling. Get your blood moving with a brisk walk, or by marching in place.

Removing small amounts of snow frequently is less strenuous than removing a large pile at one time.

If possible, removing snow over a period of days, or removing it before it builds up too much will lessen the strain on the back and arms.

In deep snow, remove a few inches at a time, rather than attempting to shovel the full depth at once. When shovelling, take a break for a minute or two every 10-15 minutes or if you feel overworked at any point. Use this time to stretch your arms, shoulders, and back to keep them warm and flexible.

Whenever possible, push the snow to one side, rather than lifting it. Keep the shovel close to the body rather than in front with arms stretched out.

This is particularly important with heavy or deep snow which, of course, is the only sort that seems to fall on my driveway! If you have to lift, try to bend at the knees with your back straight, scoop some snow and straighten up, lifting with the knees, not the spine. Carry the snow to the pile or throw it forward, don’t throw it behind you. Try not to bend at the waist and don’t hold your breath when lifting!

When gripping the shovel, keep your hands about 12 inches apart to provide greater stability and minimize the chances of injuring your lower back.

An ergonomic snow shovel can help take some of the effort out of your snow removal chores. A shovel with a curved handle or an adjustable handle length will minimize painful bending, requiring you to bend your knees only slightly and arch your back very slightly while keeping the shovel blade on the ground. In addition, a small, lightweight, plastic blade helps reduce the amount of weight that you are moving.

Slippery conditions while shovelling can lead to slipping and/or falls and strains. Shoes or boots with good treads will help to minimize injuries from slipping. Spreading sand, rock salt, or kitty litter on your sidewalk or driveway will increase traction and reduce the likelihood of slipping on the ice.

The best way to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself while shovelling is, of course, to hire your neighbour’s teenagers or fly south for the winter. Just make sure you tip them well and provide hot chocolate when they finish.


Ben Chatterson is a physiotherapist at Rehabilitation in Motion which has four Island locations including two in Campbell River – Willow Point (250) 923-3773 and Quinsam (across from Save On Foods), (250) 286-9670 – as well as Comox Valley (250) 334-9670 and Port Alberni (250) 723-9675. Ben Chatterson works at the Comox Valley Clinic. Visit

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