Back injuries while shoveling snow are unfortunately very common. Most people use poor body mechanics while shoveling, therefore placing excess stress on the lower back. Fortunately, shoveling doesn’t have to mean back pain. If done correctly, your back should not be screaming at you by the time you’re done!
First of all, before you head outside consider warming-up first just like you would at the gym. Start with a few stretches, and then go for a quick walk before starting. Also, make sure to stay hydrated – shoveling can work up a sweat! When it’s cold outside it can be very deceiving; odds are you’ve taken off your jacket after shoveling in the past and found yourself to be full of sweat.
It’s also wise to take frequent breaks! Since we don’t need to shovel year-round, our bodies may not be in prime shape for shoveling. The key is to stop BEFORE your back “starts talking to you.” Make yourself stop after 15 minutes or so to take a break, such as going inside for a bite to eat or just relax for a bit. Then, if you have no change in your baseline symptoms (i.e. no increased back pain), go back out for another 15 min or so and repeat this process. Stretch into extension from time to time as well.
As far as shoveling techniques go, it’s important to avoid hunching forward. Push the snow as much as you can. Stand tall. When you do have to scoop and throw the snow, be careful to keep your chest lifted. Pretend that you’re wearing a long necklace, necktie or lanyard. As you bend forward, you should bend from the hips, ensuring that your pretend necklace lies against your chest. It should not dangle over the shovel. In order to achieve this, you must bend your legs at the hips and knees. Your legs should be exhausted when you’re doing shoveling – not your back!
If you need to throw the snow into a pile, be sure you don’t twist your body. Pivot your feet in such a way that you can throw the snow without torquing your back or knees. When you’re done, take a few minutes to hydrate, stretch and ice your back. That way you know you’ve done everything you can to ensure that your back stays healthy. Also, if you want to learn more about body mechanics, view our other blogs or ask your doctor, occupational or physical therapist at PDR Clinics – they’ll be happy to share their wealth of knowledge with you!