Avoiding Back Injury While Shoveling Snow

It’s wintertime, and any New Englander knows, that means snow! Using the wrong shoveling technique is a sure route to back injury and a lot of pain and suffering. At Specht, we’d like to give you some great tips for being safer and reducing the risk of injury.

The best way to avoid injury from shoveling is to prepare early. If you know snow is coming, consider salting your driveway or sidewalk before the snowfall. This can make shoveling easier, melting away some of the snow, and preventing ice from forming. This could prevent any serious falls, or slips, giving you more stability as you shovel.

Once the snow has begun, there are some important things to keep in mind while shoveling. Shoveling requires the same mechanics as lifting an object off the floor.

    1. Hinge at your hips  Your hips are built to flex up and down. They work well as you sit your butt down towards the ground, and this utilizes your leg muscles to the best of their ability. This means, don’t arch your back to bend over. Keeping your back straight, or neutral can prevent a lot of injury and back pain.
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    2. To lift the snow, stay in a neutral position at your lumbar spine. It is imperative that you do not bend your back as you are lifting the shovel, filled with icy, wet snow. Bending your back puts weight on your back muscles in ways it’s not used to handling.
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    3. Walk the snow to where you want to place it. Do not twist your body and toss the snow. This relates back to the idea of keeping your back neutral. Twisting can put pressure on those muscles in ways they are not meant to handle. It also relates back to stability, with the twisting, and your weight shifting as you toss snow, it can be easy to lose your footing, causing a fall.
    4. Only go for a couple minutes at a time, and take frequent breaks. to allow your body to rest. If you know a big storm is coming, it may be beneficial to shovel a few times throughout the storm, rather than waiting for the snow to stop and shoveling all of that wet, and heavy snow at once. Think about lifting weights at a gym, and doing a few reps with a small weight, versus fewer reps with heavier weights. Lighter weights and more reps takes more time, but there is definitely less risk of injury.
    5. Stay loose by doing small, supported back-bends. Place hands on your lower back and slowly lean backward until feeling a small stretch in lower back. Make sure you are doing this during a resting state. DO NOT bend backwards while shoveling, as this could lead to more injuries.
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While there are a lot of things to keep in mind while shoveling, the biggest key take always are:

      • Eliminate any twisting at the spine. Twisting is bad! As you lift the shovel, pivot your feet while you dump the snow.  Do not keep your feet stationery and twist your spine. That will lead to injury nearly every time.
      • Legs, legs, legs: Always bend your knees and squat, do not bend at your back.  Your legs are built to be the strongest part of your body. Therefore, using your arms to lift the snow will get you injured, whereas, lifting with your legs, that will just get you tired! Tired is ok. Injured, that’s not ok!
      • Lastly, remember to drink plenty of water before, during, and after shoveling. Breathing cold air dehydrates the body.