Safe Snow Shoveling Tips

by Dr. Brock Vosberg on February 4, 2014

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With the annual “snowmageddon” currently in the forecast, I thought this might be a good time to review some tips to avoid back pain from shoveling snow.

Back Pain from Shoveling SnowBefore I get into the tips, though, I want to touch on why snow shoveling causes back pain, even among otherwise perfectly fit people. To be frank, it almost always comes down to de-conditioning. The pattern is that we tend to be quite active throughout the spring, summer, and fall, but when winter comes we slow down. Our activity diminishes, and we seek the warmth and comfort of our homes.

Unfortunately, as our movement and activity diminishes, so does our core strength. Then a winter storm blows in and we immediately put our bodies back to work moving potentially thousands of pounds of wet snow. In other words, we subject our de-conditioned bodies to countless reps of bending, lifting, pushing, and throwing – all in a cold environment and most likely without out any stretching or warm up ahead of time and with little or no thought to maintaining core stability. We wouldn’t go to a gym and do that to ourselves, but we don’t hesitate to do it in our own driveways!

Clearly, this is a recipe for disaster. So how can you protect yourself against unnecessary, snow-induced back pain? Well, buy a snow blower is the short answer. But until then, practice these safe lifting tups whenever you’re moving snow: 

  • Maintain a stable core. With each movement you make with the shovel, you should be engaging your core. Think about sticking your belly out like you’re fat while breathing in. This helps to create the pressurized cylinder in your torso that provides stability for the low back.
  • Lift with your glutes. We have all heard the old adage “lift with your legs not with your back.” I am going to amend that and challenge you to lift with your glutes. Treat each scoop you take with the shovel as a mini squat. The glutes are not only a stronger set of muscles that are better designed for the job, but activating your glutes will limit the strain you are placing on your low back. Squatting to lift, as though you were sitting down in a chair, you are preventing yourself from bending at the back, which is exactly what we want.
  • Rest your arm on your thigh as you lift. This will greatly reduce the load on your low back by bypassing the arm and spine linkage and redirecting the forces into the ground..
  • Avoid rotation. If you can’t rest your arm on your thigh, then keep your hands with the weight of the shovel close to your belly button. This is your center of gravity and will provide you with most stability and control over the load of the shovel. Do not twist with the load. Keep it in front of you and move to your snow pile.
  • Take breaks When you feel fatigued take breaks. Shoveling keeps your back mostly in a flexed state. When fatigue sets in put the shovel down, place your hands at the small of your back and extend back over them. Do 10-20 repetitions of these standing back extensions and then go back to shoveling. It will give your fatigued tissues a break and will help prevent injury.
  • Core between storms. Try performing core activities between snow storms to help re-condition muscles. Performing planks or front bridges are a good place to start this re-conditioning.

This by no means is an all encompassing list of ways to prevent injury with shoveling. But it is a good place to start. Of course, if you do experience any back pain from snow shoveling, or any of life’s other heavy loads, please contact us let us help you get back to feeling your best so you can Work Hard. Play Harder. Expect More.

 

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