March 14, 2024/Wellness

Shoveling Snow? Tips To Prevent Back Injury or Pain

Stretch before heading outside, keep proper form and avoid jerking or twisting to throw snow

Person shoveling snow

If it’s winter, there’s a good chance you’ll soon be outside shoveling snow.

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And while it’s ideal to make sure your driveway and sidewalks are clear of snow, you may have to deal with back pain after a shoveling session.

“There are three components that cause back pain when shoveling, in general,” explains chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC. “One is the repetitive nature of the shoveling. One is your ergonomic position of how you hold the shovel. And the other one is the weight on the end of the shovel.”

Dr. Bang shares tips on how to prevent back pain and if you need a special shovel for when the next blizzard hits.

Tips to prevent back pain or injury

Dr. Bang offers up some ways to keep your back feeling great while shoveling snow.

Stretch out your back

Lower temperatures outside result in your body restricting blood flow, which can lead to muscle spasms or cramps. (And all that exertion too quickly can also trigger a heart attack.)

Dr. Bang says it’s a good idea to stretch before you head outside.

“Three really good stretches are the runner’s lunge, piriformis stretch and the supine lumbar twist stretch,” he suggests.

Here’s how to do each stretch.

Runner’s lunge stretch

  1. Start in a plank position.
  2. Lift one leg toward your shoulder from the all-fours position. Imagine a runner before a race or a “running start” position.
  3. Hold position for 60 to 90 seconds while inhaling and exhaling.
  4. Repeat with the other leg.

Knee-to-shoulder piriformis stretch

  1. Lie flat on your back and cross your right leg. Place your right ankle on the top of your left knee.
  2. Using your hands, lift your legs by grabbing the back of your left thigh and pulling your legs towards you. Hold for 60 to 90 seconds.
  3. Do this on each side three times, twice a day.

Supine spinal twist stretch

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms out to your sides.
  2. Bring your legs to your right side while keeping your left shoulder on the ground.
  3. Using your right hand, push your knees down to the floor. Hold for 60 to 90 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

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Follow the proper technique for shoveling

How high you lift snow with your shovel and how far away it’s thrown determines the amount of strain put on your lower back, Dr. Bang says. Limiting the lift and throw will translate into fewer back aches.

Research shows that squatting a little bit, and placing your feet farther apart, can reduce the strain on low back muscles, he notes. And squatting lower brings the shovel closer to the ground so snow won’t have to be lifted as high.

Don’t twist or jerk to toss snow

Be mindful not to twist or jerk to toss a heavy load of snow. These movements should be avoided whenever possible, Dr. Bang says, because they strain the disks in the lower back and could cause disks to herniate or rupture.

“Make sure you squat with your legs to avoid bending forward. This will put the stress on your legs, not your back,” he explains. “Then, throw the snow directly in front of you to avoid twisting and throwing the snow. Or try to just push the snow and avoid lifting and throwing it at all.”

Watch out for icy walkways

Falling on ice can lead to bone fractures, ligament tears or bruising along your backbone and spine.

To help maintain good traction, Dr. Bang advises wearing snow boots with a sole made of non-slip rubber that have larger treads.

Do I need a special shovel for back pain?

An aluminum shovel. A square-nosed shovel. A snow scoop shovel. Uh, and even a snow pusher with wheels. If you’ve been to your local big-box home improvement store lately, you might have noticed that the snow shovel selection is almost as daunting as that foot of snow in your driveway.

As far as what shovel type is the best for your back, Dr. Bang says research hasn’t been done to determine which kind is superior. But generally, any shovel that’s lower to the ground and reduces the distance the snow has to be lifted and thrown is a good idea.

“A good rule of thumb, based on the research, is that the less we raise the snow up, the less far we throw it away, the less strain there will be on your back,” he says.

Bottom line?

Shoveling snow doesn’t have to result in back pain, says Dr. Bang. Make sure you’re aware of how you’re shoveling snow and do your best to maintain the proper technique.

If your back starts to hurt after shoveling snow, there are a few things you can do at home. You may need to rest for a few hours and limit any unnecessary movements to allow your muscles time to recover. But avoid resting too much, as that may cause a stiff back.

You may also benefit from taking ibuprofen, which helps relieve inflammation, or acetaminophen, which interferes with the pain signals sent to your brain. Hot and cold therapy (think a heating pad and an ice pack) can also help lower inflammation. Try alternating between hot and cold.

Still feeling back pain after a few days? Then, it may be time to talk to a healthcare provider.

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