Lower back pain- reducing the risk when shovelling snow.

Welcome winter! Welcome snow! Welcome shovelling! Welcome lower back pain!

Shovelling greatly increases the risk of low back pain and injury due to the ergonomics, weight of the snow, and the repetitive nature of shoveling. Here are a few tips to avoid lower back injuries and pain as a result of snow shoveling this winter. Read on, your back will thank us!

1. Warm up!

Cold muscles are more susceptible to injury, so warm up the large muscles in your lower back before heading out to shovel the snow. For example, start by placing a heating pad on your lower back for 10 – 20 minutes, followed with some light aerobic exercises to get your blood moving (jumping jacks, light jog etc.). Then do some gentle stretching (check out our blog post on preventative exercises for lower back injuries!). 
 By getting the blood flowing, the muscles moving, and the body moving, you are greatly reducing your risk of a back injury from shoveling.

2. Use an ergonomic shovel.

Shovelling makes one very susceptible to a low back injury due to the positioning of the body during shoveling, and the load of the snow at the end of the shovel. It will help if you can minimize the degree you need to bend forward to shovel, so consider using a shovel with a curved handle, which will allow you to stay in a more upright stance. An adjustable length shovel can also let you shorten the handle length, so you are not straining to lift heavy snow that’s too far away from your body. Both of these factors will help take stress off your lower back. Finally, the lighter the shovel (e.g. plastic) the less weight you will need to hoist.

3. Proper movement:

Bend at your hips and with your knees, and lift with your leg muscles, not your back. Do not bend your back forward or twist your back at any point. Only lift an amount of snow that you can comfortably handle.

4. Previous injury:

If you have a previous injury, or are currently revering from a lower back injury, avoiding shoveling is important. Shoveling puts you at a high risk of further injury, disc herniation, or nerve impingement. There are other options to explore:

  • Find a volunteer to clear your snow. Many local nonprofit organizations, such as Boy Scouts, high schools and church youth programs require teens and young adults to provide a certain number of service hours in their community. Assisting someone with back pain by shoveling their driveways and walkways will almost always count towards their required minimum of service hours, so it’s a win-win: they will be helping you by shoveling your snow and you will be helping them fulfill their service requirements.
  • Use a snow blower instead of a shovel. When used correctly, a snow blower can take much of the stress of snow removal off your back. Use the power of your legs to propel the machine forward, keeping your back straight (don’t hunch forward) and your knees slightly bent.
  • Hire a snow removal service. The easiest option may be to hire a show removal service. Most local areas have a few options for this service: landscaping and lawn maintenance companies and handymen service companies commonly offer this service. While it is expensive, protecting your back is priceless.

As a final note, slipping on the snow or ice is a serious concern, especially if you already have a bad back. Be sure to wear boots with good treads, and spread sand, or salt on the area. Strengthening and preventative measures can also help reduce the risk of a lower back injury. A physiotherapist or personal trainer can help you with such exercises.
Charlotte Anderson
Registered Physiotherapist

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