Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling  

Winter is often a busy time in our Ottawa physiotherapy and sports medicine clinics. In general, people may be more active outdoors during the rest of the year for obvious reasons, but those reasons – namely, the weather conditions – create their own set of hazards. Going out in your car can mean 20 minutes of scraping off ice and snow.

Getting down the sidewalk means shoveling snow,  an activity that can cause a number of strains, sprains, and other stresses and injuries. Here's a look at how to get the job done safely.

Are You Fit?

Your first consideration should Are you in good shape, and able to perform the repetitive, back straining actions that shoveling snow requires? If you're not sure, the best idea is to book a consultation with one of our Ottawa physiotherapy or chiropractic specialists for an assessment. You should definitely get a medical assessment if:

  • You've had a recent injury, especially to the back or spine;
  • You have a chronic condition like high blood pressure or lipidemia;
  • You have heart disease;
  • You haven't exercised very much lately.

Before You Start

  • The best time to begin shoveling is about 1 or 2 hours after you've eaten.
  • Warm up first, just as you would before a workout. That can mean something as simple as walking for 10 to 15 minutes before you begin.
  • Stretching before you head outside is also a good idea.
  • A lightweight shovel is better than a heavier one, and look for one with an ergonomically designed handle with a curve that accommodates your grip
  • Wear multiple layers. As you warm up, you can remove one or two.
  • Be sure to wear boots with non-slip soles.


Using proper technique is just as important shoveling snow as it is when you are exercising or practicing your sport. Making the wrong moves can mean injury.

  • Begin slowly and work in intervals. Shovel for about 10 minutes at first, and then rest for another 2 or 3 minutes. Continue as you build up stamina.
  • Remember to stay hydrated by drinking enough water.
  • Shovel early, soon after the snow starts, even if it seems like it will be a long haul. It's better to shovel a lighter load two or three times separated by intervals of rest, than to try and leave it as long as you can and then struggle with heavy shovelfuls of snow.
  • Push the snow rather than trying to lift it onto the shovel.

Your Stance:

  • Try to stand with your feet slightly apart for balance and stability and hold the shovel close to your body to avoid back strain.
  • Bend from the knees and avoid using your back to lift.
  • Use your abdominal muscles when lifting rather than your back.
  • Try shovel with a straight up and down motion, and avoid twisting.
  • If you're feeling muscle pain and fatigue, you should stop, and if you have any symptoms such as dizziness, excessive sweating, or shortness of breath, stop immediately and call 911.

If you have any questions or concerns about shoveling snow or any other physical activity, or you've been injured by shoveling snow, then don't hesitate to contact our Ottawa physiotherapy clinics for an appointment with a specialist.




Blog Archives