Shovel handle key to painless snow removal: researcher

A University of Calgary grad student says a “goose-neck” shovel is the best way to deal with snow.

U of C biomechanics student says a 'goose-neck' shaft reduces mechanical load

University of Calgary grad student Ryan Lewinson says he's found a better shovel shape to lift snow with. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

A University of Calgary grad student says a “goose-neck” shovel is the best way to deal with snow.

Ryan Lewinson said the shape of the shaft could reduce the physical pain that can come with shovelling.

A University of Calgary researcher found the bent shaft of a "goose-neck" shovel reduced mechanical loads on the lower back by 16 per cent. (Donald McSwiney/University of Calgary)

"Bending isn't what's causing lower back pain. It's not that you bend less, there has to be a load that is causing the pain. We went one step further to show that because of that lower flexion, there is that reduced load as well.”

American studies have shown roughly 12,000 people are treated in emergency rooms each year for snow-shovelling injuries, and the most common injury is to the lower-back.

"It was a very relevant topic to Canadians, so I thought it would be an interesting one to look at because no one’s really done that before,” said Lewinson, who studies biomechanics.

Lewinson focused solely on which is best for lifting the snow, since that motion is often the most backbreaking.

"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," said Lewinson. "What we found is that when you use the bent shaft snow shovel, you don't bend over quite as much."

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 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. 

The study was published in the latest edition of Applied Ergonomics.


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