Top 5 Snow Shoveling Techniques to Prevent Back Pain

Snow Shoveling Techniques to Prevent Back Pain

Snow shoveling is not only a time-consuming chore, it is also a pain in the back—literally. Did you know that, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine’s 2009 study4.15% of injuries treated in US emergency departments come from people wielding a shovel improperly or were near someone using a shovel? The most common injuries? Strains, sprains, contusions and abrasions, fractures and back pain.

Back pain caused by snow shoveling can lead to monthslong discomfort, diminished quality of life, lengthy rehabilitation and increased healthcare costs. It is therefore essential to know how to shovel snow properly to prevent injuries and avoid costly complications.

So what’s a snow-bound shoveler to do to prevent back pain after shoveling? Consider these top 5 tips for warding off back pain from shoveling.

1. Warm up before you shovel

We applaud your eagerness to jump out of bed and head outdoors to take on that mound of snow that the snow plow conveniently packed behind your car or to clear snow from your roof, but it’s a bad idea. 

For one, you are more prone to injury when your muscles are cold and tight. Your body needs time to increase blood flow before beginning any strenuous activity, like shoveling snow. That’s why it is a good idea to get your heart pumping with a brisk walk, marching in place or another full-body activity for 10 minutes.

In addition, because your neck, shoulders, back and core all work together as you drive your shovel into the snow and remove heavy snow, you need to specifically warm up these muscles to ensure you don’t suffer from back pain after shoveling snow. Consult an expert or search online for a suitable warm-up routine before shoveling.

2. Use the proper snow shoveling technique 

Shoveling snow requires optimized body mechanics and good posture to keep back pain at bay:

  • Face the pile of snow you want to remove. 
  • Place one hand at least halfway down the shovel, near the blade, and the other on the handle to keep the weight of the snow near your body. The farther the weight is, the more strain you put on your back.
  • With your feet planted firmly on the ground and abdominal muscles slightly contracted, bend from the knees and hips (a squat)—not forward using your spine. This provides better stability and protects your joints and discs.  
  • Scoop up the snow, but make sure to keep your load of snow light. Lift the shovel using your leg muscles and keep your back straight.
  • Don’t twist your back and fling snow over your shoulder. Instead, keep your nose over your toes, pivot your body all at once to face the direction you want to walk to, and gently deposit the snow. Better yet: don’t even lift the snow; just push it.

3. Take your time

Nothing screams “Honey, my back is sore!” quite like rushing to shovel snow like your life depended on it. Remember, it is not the Hunger Games. Pace yourself, shovel small amounts of snow and take a break every few minutes to shake out your back, arms and legs. 

During extended snowfalls or during snowstorms, it is wiser to go out often to shovel rather than tackling huge piles in just one go. A bonus? Freshly fallen snow is lighter and easier to shovel, whether from your roof or driveway.

4. Keep yourself in shape

Avoid back pain from shoveling snow by staying fit with both cardio and resistance training. Regularly work out to fire up your heart and the muscles you use when you shovel. Add in gentle stretches and yoga to target muscles that can instigate lower back pain and upper back pain from shoveling snow.

5. Pick the right snow shoveling gear

Back injuries while shoveling snow can also be caused by using the wrong gear. Use an ergonomic shovel with an adjustable handle that fits your height and that is sturdy enough to help you stand straighter and cause less stress on your back.

Need to remove snow from your roof? Opt for a roofing shovel, like PolarMade’s SnowPeeler CLASSIC or SnowPeeler PREMIUM. These roof snow removal tools are highly effective and safe. It is up to 3 times faster than traditional snow rakes, it is effective in both fresh and packed snow and it can be used from the ground or directly on the rooftop. Find out which SnowPeeler is right for your needs.

Last but not least, make sure you have the right footwear when shoveling. In a nutshell, you need to wear boots with great traction (think: good treads) to stabilize yourself when you lift snow, especially on an icy driveway or stairs. 

Still feeling back pain post-shoveling?

Relieve discomfort by using a foam roller to massage your muscles or using kinesiotaping to accelerate recovery time. Try an Epsom salts bath or alternate between ice and heat to relieve muscle soreness and reduce inflammation.

Back pain caused by snow shoveling indicates overexertion and poor technique. Our best advice: get some rest! Get the kids, a friend or a neighbor to help you clear the snow. And if your back pain after shoveling doesn’t subside, consult a healthcare practitioner. 

Remember to follow these tips to ensure a winter safe from back injuries. 

Happy shoveling!