How to Prevent Injuries When Shovelling

As much as we would like to avoid the strenuous activity of shoveling altogether (not to mention winter itself!), we have to prepare our bodies for the heavy demands. The Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation has classified snow shovelling as a high-risk activity for cardiovascular events (heart attacks, angina). More commonly, therapists at SEMI treat patients who have had minor aches and pains, strained muscles in their backs, legs, or necks due to shovelling.

We want to help prepare you as much as possible and prevent injuries that may be caused by this cumbersome task!

What to Look For in a Shovel:

  • The length of the shovel handle. Ensure it is not too long, forcing you to work too hard, and not too short, causing you to hunch your back.
  • If you have a shovel that has a straight handle, consider investing in one with a bend in the handle. This will reduce the amount of force needed to push and lift snow.
  • Avoid a large shovel base with a metal blade. These types of shovels make you work harder, shoveling heavier/larger amounts at once, and can leave you more vulnerable to an injury.

Examine Your Lifting Technique

A wider hand placement on the shovel will help with leveraging the snow. The Canadian Physiotherapy Association recommends keeping hands 12 inches apart. Remind yourself to bend with your knees. When dumping snow into piles, keep your feet hip width apart, lift from your knees and hips to avoid straining your low back, mid back and neck. Keep snow piles close to you and always step in the direction you wish to go to prevent low back from overworking.

Take Precautions Before and After You Shovel

Even before you start to shovel, there are a few things you can to prepare your mind and body!

  • Perform a warm up (focusing on the low back and hamstrings) before shoveling; this can be a short indoor bike ride, taking a walk, stretching for 5 to 10 minutes. The muscles will be more relaxed and less likely to be strained in the cold weather.
  • Make sure to wear appropriate attire. Dry fit/breathable clothes will help protect you from over-heating.
  • Drink enough water. Also avoid excess amounts of caffeine prior to shoveling.
  • Once you start, give yourself a break every 10 minutes to ensure that you don’t over work and over extend your body.
  • Listen to your body; being aware of any signs of shortness of breath, chest or upper body pain, palpitations can be signs of a cardiac episode. Anxiety, dizziness, and fatigue can also accompany those.

3 Point Hamstring Stretch

Place your right foot up on a raised surface. Keeping your right leg completely straight and right toe pulled back toward you, lean forward with a straight back until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Maintaining the lean, rotate your torso so that your right shoulder points to your right foot. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Still maintaining your forward lean, rotate your torso so that your left shoulder is pointing towards your right foot. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat with left leg.

“A” Stance Hamstring Stretch

Stand with your feet wide. Cross your arms and fall forwards with your upper body. Allow the weight of your arms to pull you to the ground. Hold this for 20 to 30 seconds.

Knee to Chest Stretch

Lay on your back. Pull both knees to your chest and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

The Cat/Cow Stretch

Position yourself in the quadruped position, on your hands and your knees face down. Keep your hands as wide as your shoulder and your knees in line with your hands. Your start position will be a straight/neutral back. Round your back up like a cat and hold for 5 seconds. Arch your back and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat this 10 times.


If you sustain an injury from shovelling, contact SEMI to make an appointment with one of our healthcare professionals. Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute is the leading sports medicine, physiotherapy, and chiropractic clinic in the Greater Toronto Area. We offer expert diagnoses, a variety of treatment options, and high-quality care. Click here to learn more about the services we offer, or contact us to schedule an appointment.