Snow shoveling is one of the more common causes of back injuries during the winter. However, this type of injury is preventable if you know the best ways to remove snow without straining the back. The following snow removal tips can help you to avoid low back injuries and pain during the snowy winter season.
Pick the Right Snow Shovel – Use an ergonomic snow shovel that can help take some of the effort out of snow shoveling.
- A shovel with a curved or adjustable handle will minimize bending, requiring you to bend your knees only slightly and arch your back very slightly while keeping the shovel blade on the ground.
- A small, lightweight, plastic blade helps reduce the amount of weight that you are moving.
Warm Up Thoroughly – Cold, tight muscles are more prone to injury than warmed up, flexible muscles. Take time to warm up for 5 – 10 minutes before shoveling.
- Stretch your low back and hamstrings (muscles back of the thighs) with some gentle stretching exercises.
Use Ergonomic Lifting Techniques – Whenever possible, push the snow to one side rather than lift it. When lifting snow is necessary, make sure to use ergonomic techniques:
- Always face towards the object you intend to lift – have your shoulders and hips both squarely facing it.
- Bend at the hips, not the low back, and push the chest out, pointing forward. Then, bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles, keeping your back straight.
- Keep your loads light and do not lift an object that is too heavy for you.
- If you must lift a shovel full, grip the shovel with one hand was close to the blade as comfortably possible and the other hand on the handles (handle and arm length will vary the technique).
- Avoid twisting the back to move the snow to its new location – always pivot your whole body to face the new direction.
- Keep the heaviest part of the object close to your body at your center of gravity – do not extend your arms to throw the snow.
- Walk to the new location to drop the snow rather than reaching or tossing.
- When gripping the shovel, keep you hands about 12 inches apart to provide greater stability and minimize the chances of injuring your lower back.
Pace Yourself – Shoveling small amounts of snow frequently is less strenuous than shoveling a large pile at once.
- If possible, removing snow over a period of days will lessen the strain on the back and arms.
- In deep snow, remove a few inches off the top at a time, rather than shoveling the full depth at once.
- When shoveling, take a break for a minute or two every 10 – 15 minutes or if you feel overworked at any point. Use this opportunity to stretch your arms, shoulders, and back to keep them warm and flexible.
Keep Your Feet on the Ground – Slippery conditions can lead to slipping and falling or strains that can injure your back.
- Work shoes or boots with good treads will help to minimize injuries from slipping.
- Spreading sand, rock salt, or kitty litter in your work area will increase traction and reduce accidents.
If Possible, Stop Shoveling – Use a Snow Blower Instead – When used correctly, a snow blower can put less stress on your lower back than shoveling.
- Avoid stressing your back by using your legs to push the snow blower while keeping your back straight and knees bent.
Keeping these guidelines in mind during the winter will lessen the chances of developing new back problems or worsening your back pain while shoveling, and hopefully make your winter healthier and more enjoyable.