Proper shoveling techniques for a healthy back
Updated: Jan 6
How to shovel snow to prevent back injury
Winter comes with lots of snow to enjoy, depending on how you look at it. It also comes with responsibility to remove snow from the driveway and sidewalks to keep everyone safe. There are many that engage services of others to remove it, while others tackle it on their own.
Here are things to consider to ensure proper technique to prevent injury:
Equipment - there are shovels that are ergonomic in design, either a curved handle or adjustable handle length, that helps to minimize bending over. Bending over to push and hauling heavy snow repetitively can put strain on the back. If a regular shovel is used, no problem. Just always make sure to lift with the leg strength and engage the core muscles in the abdominals and sides to support the back muscles. Also, the smaller the blade, the less snow, so less strain.
Warm-up: Just like any other activity, stretching and doing a short warm-up goes a long way. That being cold, tight muscles are more prone to injury than those that have been warmed up and stretched gently as deep stretching can often lead to injury during vigorous activity.
The focus is on the back, but don’t forget other areas that help support shoveling, like the legs and arms for pushing and lifting as well. You can also go for a brisk walk, skip or bounce on the spot. After warming up, it’s still important to stretch. In the end, stretching the lower and upper back, hamstrings, gluteus, shoulders and arms.
Take your time: If it means getting up a bit earlier in the morning, so be it. Better to take the time to do it well than to have to spend time going to a healthcare professional to repair any damage from a hasty snow removal day. Work with smaller loads than trying to move everything faster with larger loads.
Try not to procrastinate: If a large dump of snow is on its way, try to set aside time to remove the snow in increments, rather than waiting until it’s all done snowing. Again, this lessens the load to prevent any unwanted injury or strain on the body. Taking a moment to pause and do more stretching, take a drink of water, take a moment to catch the breath, and maybe even enjoy the beauty of the snow falling from the sky before getting back to it.
Shoveling technique: pushing rather than lifting would be ideal. If that’s not possible, make sure to use proper lifting techniques:
Bend at the hips and use the legs to lift instead of using the lower back. Keep the back as straight as possible.
Keep the lifting hand close to the blade on the handle of the shovel when lifting the snow to move it to another location. The other hand should be close as well to further reduce any strain on the lower back.
Make sure to stay square and face the direction you are lifting and rather than twisting or pivoting to dump the snow.
Keep your centre of gravity stable and strong, rather than reaching or tossing the snow away from the body; not only for the health of the back, but shoulders as well.
Don’t be a hero/heroine. Easy does it by taking the time to move and lift smaller loads, rather than taking on those that are too heavy. Fatigued is often when injuries happen.
Pay attention to the conditions and adjust accordingly - avoid slips and falls that can further cause strain and injury. Get the salt out and perhaps while taking a break from shoveling, put some salt out to the areas that have the snow removed. Having proper footwear can also help minimize slips with increased traction.
These tips aren’t only for the benefit of preventing injury. Shoveling snow is an intense aerobic workout at times and can add stress on the heart. With the cold weather as well, it adds to the blood vessels constricting because the body is trying to conserve heat making the heart work even harder to pump blood through the smaller pathways of the blood vessels.
Another way to make snow removal more enjoyable is to keep the body in good health with regular exercise, stretching and stability training. Squatting and lunges help to build lower body strength making shoveling easier. Keeping the core strong is also another bonus as shoveling requires a lot of core strength and stability to prevent injury. Snow shoveling can be a daily exercise itself, so while doing a chore it can also double as a workout for the day.
If injury does happen, a whole body approach as is done at Infinity Chiropractic & Wellness supports the body to be in optimal health overall rather than only treating the issue at hand. Massage and chiropractic care is a great way to help prevent injury and to help on the road of recovery if injury from snow removal does occur.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. The content provided is for informational purposes only. Use of the content provided on this blog post is at your sole discretion.