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The Quick but Handy Guide to Buying a Snow Shovel

The Quick but Handy Guide to Buying a Snow Shovel

The Quick but Handy Guide to Buying a Snow Shovel

In recent years, innovations in snow shovel technology have led to a wide range of new and unique shovel types. These innovations are a blessing, but they can also make finding your ideal snow shovel more difficult.

Here are 3 tips for choosing the best snow shovel for you:

1. Test your shovel before purchasing

You might feel a little awkward shoveling snow inside of a snowless building while strangers are watching, but that’s really the only way to test out a snow shovel. Put self-consciousness aside, take a firm grip on each candidate, and make the exact same motions you would if you were at home shoveling your driveway.

Ask yourself:

  • Does the shovel feels too light or too heavy in my hands?
  • Is the shovel easy to maneuver?
  • Is the handle too long or too short?
  • Is the shovel comfortable to grasp?
  • Will I be able to easily push and/or lift snow with this shovel?

If you have doubts about the shovel and/or if it’s causing your back to strain while you mimic snow shoveling in the store, don’t buy that one. Certainly, it won’t be easier to use when its blade is filled with snow.

2. Select the right blade

There are two main considerations in choosing a snow-shovel blade: its shape and the material from which it is made.

  • Flat shovels do well at cutting into deep piles of snow, such as drifts or mounds pushed up by snow plows
  • Round, scoop-like shovel blades are better for pushing snow to make a path, and at scooping up snow to toss it to a new location

Ideally, you’ll want one of each — a flat-blade shovel and a round-blade shovel — so you can handle all obstacles with ease.

Should you use a metal or plastic blade?

  • Metal blades are stronger, able to carry bigger loads, and are less likely to break. But they can also be heavy — too heavy for some people — and using them might risk scraping and damaging your pavement
  • Plastic blades are light, easy to maneuver, and better at preventing snow from sticking to their surface. But plastic is also more brittle than metal and can break if it encounters screws or rocks. Plastic blades also move less snow per motion, so using them means it will take longer to clear off your driveway and walkways

Some people prefer metal, some plastic, and some find use for both. There are also shovels with a plastic blade coupled with a metal "wear strip" that gives it extra strength. Are these hybrid shovels the best of both worlds? That’s up to you to decide.

3. Choose the ideal handle

Snow shovel handles are made from a variety of materials:

  • Wooden handles are relatively light but have adequate strength. They often last for years, but occasionally you’ll need to tighten the screws since wood expands/contracts with changes in the weather. Applying linseed oil also can help keep your wood handle water-resistant and extend its lifespan. A poor-quality wooden handle may cause splinters, so check for that as well
  • Metal handles can be light and rust-proof if made of metals like aluminum, but some metals are heavy and will rust if the handle isn’t kept dry between uses
  • Plastic is light and easily maneuvered, but you need to keep the shovel indoors when not in use since sun and water can make plastic brittle or warp its shape
  • Finally, fiberglass is very durable and strong. It doesn’t rust and is very unlikely to break. However, fiberglass is relatively heavy to lift

As to handle design, the main options are:

  • Ergonomically bent handles, which minimize the need to bend down and thus reduce back pain. However. these shovels are more difficult to lift if you are lifting heavy loads
  • Double handles, which allow you to hold two handles at once to maximize leverage
  • Fold-over handles, which are perfect for storing in your vehicle in case you get stuck in a snow drift and need to shovel yourself out
  • Wheel-connected handles, which allow you to clear off snow with minimal effort and in one-third the usual time

With these tips, you should be able to find the perfect shovel (or shovels) for your needs.

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.