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How to Choose the Best Snow-Shovel for Seniors

How to Choose the Best Snow-Shovel for Seniors

How to Choose the Best Snow-Shovel for Seniors

Every winter, thousands of seniors injure themselves while shoveling snow, with slips, falls, hypothermia, frostbite, and muscle strain the usual causes. 

Rather than risk injury, many seniors prefer to hire someone—or ask a friend or neighbor—to shovel them out.  Others avoid risk by installing a heated driveway or using snow-melting mats on outdoor surfaces.  For those of you who are healthy enough and have the inclination to shovel your own snow, it’s important to make sure that you use a proper snow shovel.  It can make the difference for a safe and efficient outcome.    

Here are some tips for choosing the best snow shovel for seniors:

1. Look for a lightweight shovel

Look for a smaller, lighter shovel that will put less strain on your back and heart while you're shoveling. Plastic blades are lighter than metal, and snow doesn’t stick to plastic the way it does to metal. To keep the plastic from becoming brittle and breaking over time, make sure to store your shovel indoors and away from the cold, heat, and light.

2. Consider the blade shape

A flat-bladed shovel is best for chopping out deep layers of snow one layer at a time while a rounded blade is better for both pushing and lifting snow. As much as possible, you should stick to pushing snow rather than lifting it in order to reduce strain. However, sometimes you might need a flat blade, so it can be a good idea to have both.    

3. Test the shovel before purchase

You need to feel a snow shovel in your hands and go through the motions of shoveling snow in order to know if it's light, easy to maneuver, and the right length for you. You should also test the diameter of the handle, since it will affect your grip.  And, if the handle is wooden, be sure that it is smooth and of high quality so that it doesn’t cause splinters.

4. Get an ergonomic handle

An ergonomically designed handle (with a sharp curve) greatly reduces the number of times you need to bend down while shoveling snow. This curve might make it harder to lift heavy loads of snow, but lifting is something seniors should avoid, at any rate. 

5. Consider a non-traditional shovel

Newer snow-shovel models are designed with innovations such as double handles (to maximize leverage) and wheeled handles (to help you shovel faster). You can also find "electric snow shovels," which work like miniature snow blowers. Try out these new models for comfort and efficacy—you may find something that’s just right.

6. Invest in a few accessories

A strong-bristled push broom will push off light dustings of snow while a long-handled scraper tool can help you chip away ice without squatting. You should also use a little sand and de-icer to create traction and prevent black ice formation after shoveling is complete.

7. Keep a compact shovel in your car

You should keep a small plastic shovel with a foldable handle in your car in case of an emergency. Getting stuck in a snow drift while away from home (and away from your snow shovels) is a very real danger. 

Shoveling snow can put a lot of strain on your back and heart. But seniors can reduce the risk of injury by following these tips for choosing the right snow shovel.

Back Problems Associated with Shoveling Snow

Back Problems Associated with Shoveling Snow

Back Problems Associated with Shoveling Snow

Every year, thousands of people injure themselves while shoveling snow out of their driveways, and a large portion of those injuries are sustained on the back. The constant bending over, raising and lowering of the spine, and the effects of cold weather on your muscles all contribute to winter back injuries. Additionally, lack of proper snow shoveling technique, sudden activity after a routinely sedentary lifestyle, and use of less-than-optimal shovels all make back problems worse.

The most common types of winter back problems

While shoveling snow can lead to many kinds of back problems, these four are the most common:

1.   Lower back pain and strain

How it happens: Poor posture during shoveling, where the back is rounded when going down for the next load of snow, is a key cause of lower back pain. This posture minimizes the use of your stronger "spinal erector" muscles and puts the pressure on weaker "stabilizer" muscles, and over-stretches your spine's supporting ligaments.

How to prevent it: Instead of lifting snow, use the shovel to push it to the side whenever possible. But if you have to lift a shovel full of snow, squatting with and lifting from your knees will decrease the stress on your back. Keep the shovel near your body and move to the edge of the driveway instead of hurling the snow.

2.   Herniated discs

How it happens: A herniated, or "slipped," disc occurs whenever a soft, inter-vertebral disc moves out of position and presses or pinches up against a nerve. The major cause of herniating a disc while shoveling snow is rotating or twisting the back instead of making straight up and down motions. And the heavier the snow load, the greater the chances of an injury.

How to prevent it: Always face your hips and shoulders towards the object you intend to lift. Avoid twisting your back to move the snow to its new location: instead, pivot your whole body to face the new direction. For a minor investment, you can buy an ergonomically designed shovel that uses a bent handle to de-stress your back. This type of shovel also prevents your needing to bend as far. Look for an adjustable handle and lightweight material as well.

3.   Muscular back pain

How it happens: Although muscular back pain overlaps with lower back pain and can come in tandem with disc herniation, it can apply to many back muscles. Cold outdoor temperatures can slow blood circulation and make muscles more likely to cramp, over-tire, or experience spasms.

How to prevent it: Warm up with exercises and stretches before going outdoors to shovel snow. Also, warm up in a well-heated home and be sure to eat a hot breakfast. And again: too much bending and twisting will make the condition more severe.

4.   Fractures, bruising, and torn tendons/ligaments

How it happens: You can also injure your back by slipping and falling on concrete (or other hard surfaces) while shoveling snow. This can lead to a broken back, where vertebrae are actually fractured. It can also dislocate vertebrae and tear at tendons and ligaments. Additionally, bones can actually be "bruised" upon impact, causing much pain and a long-term "bad back." Injury of the coccyx, or "tail bone," is especially common during a fall since it is at the end of the vertebral column. Such an injury is serious, and you should not delay to get immediate medical attention should it occur.

How to prevent it: Make sure to wear shoes or boots with good treads to minimize injuries from slipping. Spreading a traction-enhancing substance like sand, rock salt, or kitty litter on your sidewalk or driveway will also reduce the likelihood of slipping on the ice while you shovel.

No-one really enjoys shoveling snow. But if you follow our safety tips above, at least you’ll be shoveling smart.