Dr. Allan Horowitz, published newspaper article, The Toronto Star, Copyright December 22, 1988

It’s now the time of year when we ask the rhetorical question: “Is it that time of year again?” We are all well aware that snow has already fallen, the roads are covered with slush and yes, our driveways are coated with the white stuff that only Irving Berlin could appreciate.

You wake up in the morning, get ready for work, look out the window and realize that you have some work to do before your car is ready to glide out the driveway and down the street. How people shovel snow is as different as how they drive their cars. Some are fast; some are slow. Some are careful, some are not. Some shovel with a purpose and method. Others shovel with reckless abandon. The results for the driveway might be there same, but the effects on the back vary greatly.

Believe it or not, shoveling your driveway should be considered a sport. And like any sport, there is a correct way to do it, showing proper form, warm-up and cool-down. If approached correctly, the task can be completed in a minimum of time with a minimum of after-effects. The common injuries resulting from careless shoveling of snow range from pulled back muscles, twisted knees, dislocated shoulders and frostbite to the more painful herniated spinal discs and the most serious, the heart attack.

All of these can be avoided if a few simple steps are followed, and some common sense is used. Figure out which muscles and joints you will be using, and warm up those body parts. Five minutes of exercise to loosen up your back, neck, arms and legs will suffice. Do the first few shoveling motions with no snow in the shovel. This will tell your body which motion to expect.

Dress warmly. The problem with winter sports is that if you work up a sweat, you will feel warm even though it is cold outside. If you are not wearing a warm coat, gloves, hat and pants, you might expose yourself to the cold or wind and frostbite might result.

Pride and joy

Plan a course of attack for your driveway. Think logically so that you will not repeat work or make more work for yourself. Do the most needed work first, so if you become tired you can always give up, get your car out in the morning, and finish the job later.

It is easier to push snow than to lift and throw it. Buy a good, big shovel that glides along easily. Hold the shovel with both hands directly in front of your body. Push the snow to the edge of the driveway and leave it there. Do not try to lift the snow with a large “push shovel”. When the driveway has been cleared, and you have large snow banks at the edges, you can slowly throw the snow farther out of the way.

With a smaller shovel, bend from the knees while one leg is in front of the other. Like a fencer would bend to strike his opponent- that is how you should bend to lift the snow. Lift a small amount, bring your arms back, and then, while bending your knees again, toss it off the shovel. Throw it directly in front of you, and never twist your back while bending or throwing. Tossing it 1/3 of a metre (one foot) usually serves the purpose, so don’t try to cover up your neighbor’s newly shoveled driveway by trying to throw the snow 6 metres (20 feet). It also might be wise to check the wind direction before throwing anything.

Once you have accomplished what you wanted to do, give up while you are still ahead. Most snow shoveling injuries occur when the person is just starting (not warmed-up) or when he or she is almost finished (becoming fatigued).

Do a short cool-down by walking for one or two minutes, bending to touch your toes, doing arm circles in the air, and by taking some deep, slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you are not in a rush to go anywhere, take the time for a hot shower and rest. If you are on your way out, have the car warmed up and ready to go. Then push in your White Christmas cassette, drink a hot chocolate and head to the hardware store- before they’re all sold out of snow blowers.