By: Mr. Dana Clark, Jan 27, 2011

How can I shovel snow safely to prevent injury?

Shoveling is hard on the body. Do you know how to prevent injury?

Dana Clark answers: While most people recognize that shoveling snow is very hard, fewer people recognize the stress and strain that it places on the low back. Shoveling snow requires as much energy as running 15 kilometers per hour and one full shovel-load of snow can weigh as much as 25 pounds.

We need to remember that tight muscles are more likely to strain than warm, relaxed muscles. Take time to stretch and prepare your body for activity with a simple warm-up of marching on the spot and a few shoulder circles to help tackle the snow. The Canadian Physiotherapy Association offers the following tips to help get a handle on safe shoveling:

  • Choose a shovel that’s right for you. An appropriate length handle is when you can slightly bend your knees, bend forward 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands at the start of the shovel stroke. A plastic shovel blade is also lighter than a metal one. Ergonomic shovels with a bent shaft are very good and have been well researched to use 16 per cent less of a bend when shoveling.
  • When you grip the shovel, make sure your hands are at least 12 inches apart. This will increase your leverage and reduce strain on your body. Always keep one hand close to the base of the shovel to balance weight of the lift and lessen the lower back strain.
  • Lift the snow properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it.
  • Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow. This will help prevent the low back from twisting and "next day back fatigue" experienced by many shovelers;
  • Tackle heavy snow in two stages. Begin by skimming off the snow from the top and then remove the bottom layer. Avoid overloading the shovel.
  • Take frequent breaks when shoveling.
  • Dress warmly to conserve your body temperature. 
  • Wear proper footwear. A good tread can help avoid slipping or falling.
  • If you have a health problem or are not in good shape, do not even consider shoveling snow. Find someone ahead of time to help.

Dana Clark, BScPT, FCAMT, CAFCI, is a registered physiotherapist with Sheddon Physiotherapy in Oakville, ON. He has been practicing in the area of orthopaedics since 1995. He has received instruction from international physiotherapists and has been a Fellow of the Academy of Manipulative Therapists since 2000. He is registered on the instructor's list with the Orthopedic Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association and has been teaching regularly since 1999 to physiotherapists, hospitals and medical groups on various aspects of orthopedic manual therapy. Learn more at