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Picking the right snow shovel for the job

Shovel with a bent shaft offers relief to the lower back, researcher finds
December 11, 2013
Biomedical engineering grad student Ryan Lewinson compared the amount of bending required for different types of snow shovels.

Biomedical engineering grad student Ryan Lewinson compared the amount of bending required for different types of snow shovels.  

You’ve probably shovelled a lot of snow in the last few weeks, and as you’ve massaged your aching lower back, you’ve wondered: What type of snow shovel is the best? The straight shaft shovel, or one of those high-tech looking, bent shaft shovels? 

Studies have shown that in the U.S., nearly 12,000 individuals are treated in emergency departments each year for snow shovelling injuries, and the most common injury reported is to the lower back— which makes the right type of snow shovel question more than just a curiosity.

Ryan Lewinson, an award-winning University of Calgary biomedical engineering graduate student, has at least part of the answer. For the lifting part of the snow-shovelling process, the bent shaft shovel is better. “We were primarily interested in looking at lower back flexion to see how much bending people were doing when using one type of snow shovel or the other,” explains Lewinson. “What we found is that when you use the bent shaft snow shovel, you don’t bend over quite as much.”

His study, “Influence of snow shovel shaft configuration on lumbosacral biomechanics during a load-lifting task,” was published in the latest edition of Applied Ergonomics. The study also found that besides reducing the amount of bending required, the bent shaft shovel also reduced mechanical loads on the lower back by 16 per cent. “I think that’s a pretty substantial reduction,” says Lewinson. “Over the course of shovelling an entire driveway that probably would add up to something pretty meaningful.”

Lewinson, who is part of the Faculty of Kinesiology’s Human Performance Lab, conducted the snow shovel study when he was an undergraduate at the University of Ottawa. He says that the study was limited at looking only at the lifting component of shovelling, which means he can’t be sure if a “regular” shovel might be better for pushing, chopping or throwing snow. “I have each type of shovel right now,” he says with a laugh. “Our study found the bent shovel is better for lifting, which I think is one of the most important components to shovelling snow, so I’ve been using the bent shovel more often. It’s possible that the straight shovel could be better for other aspects of shovelling, but we’d need further research to determine that.”

Lewinson is a Vanier, Killam, and Alberta Innovates MD/PhD scholar in the Faculty of Kinesiology’s Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary.

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