Shovelling Snow: Straight-Handle or Bent-Handle Shovels

Shovelling Snow straight handle

Winters are beautiful and with them come many fun activities, but, let’s be honest, shovelling all that snow is one activity few get excited about. Shovelling snow not only tedious work, but it also comes with a chance of injury.

Clearing the walks puts nearly 12,000 people in U.S. emergency departments each year (Lewinson et al., 2014).  Shovelling snow most commonly affects the low back region, in most cases due to overexertion of the muscles (Lewinson et al., 2014). In terms of back pain, it’s a moderate-risk activity that may aggravate existing injuries and/or initiate low back discomfort within a wide demographic.

Shovelling Snow: Bent Handle or Straight Handle?

There are different handle designs in shovels now available in retail stores claiming to be ‘ergonomic’. Do we really know whether they are designed well, if they reduce strain on the back, or if they actually work in real-life applications?

University of Ottawa researchers tested these shovels to determine whether show-shovel-shaft design has any influence on low back biomechanics. Lewinson and his colleagues found that bent-shaft snow shovels reduced joint loading at the low back compared to the straight-shaft shovel. Prior studies also showed similar results while testing different outcomes. The conclusion is clear: bent-shaft snow shovels can likely reduce low-back joint loading during snow shovelling and may play a role in snow-shovelling injury prevention.

However, it is hard to determine the optimal snow shovel design for injury prevention and task performance. We strongly suggest you test different shovel designs before making the final purchase, because there are many personal factors – height, weight, gender, strength levels – that may make a certain design better the one for you.

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Lewinson, T. R., Rouhi, G., Robertson, E. (2014) Influence of snow shovel shaft configuration on lumbosacral biomechanics during a load-lifting task. Applied Ergonomics 45, 234–238.