9 Ways to Protect your Back when Shoveling

person shoveling show

One common cause of back injury is using poor body mechanics when shoveling snow. Here are tips to keep your back safe when removing the white stuff from sidewalks and driveways:

1. Use good equipment. It's best to use a shovel that is ergonomically correct. This means proper height/length, so that the person shoveling isn't bending too far forward. There are curved shovels that help protect your back, but are not necessarily good for your shoulders.

2. Minimize twisting. Another issue with shoveling is twisting the lower back to remove snow from the shovel. Whenever possible it is best to move in a straight line and push the snow forward instead of twisting.

3. Use your legs. It's not always possible to avoid twisting. When turning to remove snow from the shovel, it's best to have your knees slightly bent and lift with your legs and not your back. Try to keep the shovel close to your body.

4. "Walk" the snow. Increased strain to the low back during lifting is felt when you have the weight far from your body. Instead try to walk the snow over to where you want it to go instead of twisting and turning. If you must turn try to pivot with your legs instead of twisting with your low back. It might take a little longer that way, but you are saving your back.

5. Shovel more often. It's also better to shovel smaller amounts of snow more frequently, instead of waiting to shovel the complete snow fall. Again, this is more time consuming, but you will protect your back by not lifting as much at one time.

6. Take it easy. It's important to take breaks when you are shoveling.

7. Stay fit & active. It's important to be in good shape before the snow fall. The people who are most likely to sustain an injury are the ones who are not physically active year round. Strengthen your core, in any number of ways, by working on core stabilization exercises.

8. Warm up. Before going out to shovel, make sure you have done some sort of warm up exercises, which include stretches and core strengthening.

9. Consider alternatives. Using a snow blower or hiring someone to do the snow removal are the best ways to protect your back. If you are recovering from a back injury, it is best to avoid shoveling and consider hiring someone. You can only cause more damage by pushing through the pain

Ronit Golan P.T., D.P.T., is the supervisor of SwedishAmerican's Outpatient Therapy Satellite Clinics.