Shovelling snow? Know the risks and mistakes to avoid

By Vanessa Racine, social media coordinator

Shovelling snow is like a sport unto itself! It is certainly a work-out so it’s important to know how to do it without running the risk of injury. It doesn’t take much to save you a lot of headaches (or should we say, backaches).

A small boy standing in front of a shovel with snow all around him.According to The Weather Network, an average of 210 cm of snow falls in Montreal every year between October and May. To clear a two-car driveway that measures 325 square feet, you would have to shovel 14,000 pounds of snow. If one shovelful weighs an average of 11 pounds, that means you would have to do the same movement 1,270 times to shovel it all. Given those numbers, it comes as no surprise that 31% of Canadians cite shovelling as a source of back and joint pain, according to the Association des chiropraticiens du Québec.

To prevent injury, here are some mistakes to avoid:
  • Turning only your upper body when putting snow down
  • Bending over with your knees straight when lifting a full shovel
  • Taking big shovelfuls that are difficult to push or lift
  • Tossing the snow over your shoulder
  • Using a shovel that is the wrong size or too heavy
  • Hurrying to finish quickly
  • Waiting for the storm to end before shovelling to avoid having to start over
  • Forgetting to warm up before shovelling
Every year, chiropractors see an uptick in the number of clinic consultations after a big snowfall. According to the Association, “The patients we see in the clinic after a snowstorm present mainly with pain in the lower back, neck and shoulders.” The risk of injury is even greater if a patient who comes in after an intense bout of shovelling has a pre-existing condition that they have neglected to treat.

Danger: Risk of heart attack

Additionally, according to the Montreal Heart Institute (link in French only), shovelling snow can put you at risk of a heart attack if you aren’t someone who works out regularly — just like any other strenuous physical activity. The problem with shovelling snow is that it increases your heart rate very quickly, especially if the snow is heavy.

For a 40-year-old, the maximum heart rate under effort should be approximately 180 beats per minute. When you are shovelling vigorously, your heart rate can climb to 180 beats/minute in under 45 seconds, which puts a lot of stress on your heart if you are not in shape. 

As a result, it’s critical to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack:
  • Squeezing chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal or back pain (more common in women)
  • Cold, sweaty skin
  • Skin that is bluish or paler than normal
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Denial
  • Jaw pain
When everyday health emergencies occur, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed in the moment — but it's important to be prepared in order to spring into action to save a life. If someone around you is experiencing these symptoms, it's important to take immediate action and call 911.

Red Cross first aid and CPR courses teach important lifesaving skills, including how to recognize signs of breathing and circulation emergencies, and how to call for help, perform CPR, and use an automated external defibrillator (AED). You can sign up for Red Cross first aid training in your area. 
You can also download our First Aid app. Available for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, the Canadian Red Cross First Aid app can be downloaded for free and walks you through how to provide first aid in an emergency. It gives you instant access to simple step-by-step videos and advice so that you can master the skills to save a life and respond when needed. 

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