Tips for Safer Snow Shoveling

Category: Community Corner, Patient Education

Nine Tips for Safer Snow Shoveling

Is snow-shoveling on your winter “to do list”? If so, it is important to prepare yourself before venturing out to clear that driveway and sidewalk.  Every winter, we treat many patients who have injured themselves from snow shoveling. Snow shoveling is actually a very common cause of lower back injuries. Luckily, this type of injury is easily preventable. Here are 9 tips to help keep you injury free this winter!

  1. Warm up your muscles: Even though shoveling snow may seem like a chore, it is also a form of exercise. Similar to any moderate-vigorous intensity exercise, it is important to warm up your muscles for 5-10 minutes beforehand. For snow shoveling in particular, it is important to stretch your lower back muscles. Talk to your physiotherapist about which exercises to do.
  2. Wear proper footwear: Wear a boot that has a good tread. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, hip width apart. This is a simple way to reduce your risk of falls on slippery winter surfaces.
  3. Pace yourself: Take breaks as needed and do not over exert yourself.
  4. Push the snow, don’t lift it: Don’t throw or carry the snow into a pile. Instead, keep your shovel on the ground and push the snow over to the edge of your driveway/sidewalk to create a pile.
  5. Consider your posture: Try to avoid twisting your torso or bending forward at your back when shoveling. It is especially important to avoid bending forward and twisting at the same time. For example, do not throw snow over your shoulder when shoveling – this is a common way to injure the discs in your back. Instead, try to bend your knees and hinge at your hips, keeping your back as straight as possible.
  6. Choose an ergonomic shovel: Choose a shovel with an adjustable handle length. This will minimize the amount of bending required at your back. It is also important to select a shovel that is light weight. The lighter the weight of the shovel, the less stress that is placed on your spine.
  7. Consider a bent shaft snow shovel: Researchers at the University of Ottawa found that a bent shaft snow shovel can reduce the amount of load on your low back compared to a straight shaft shovel. Previous studies have found similar results.
  8. Position your shovel close to your body: The farther your shovel is from your body, the higher the stress on your spine. Keep your shovel closer to your body and keep your back straight!
  9. Hydrate yourself: Remember that you are exerting yourself and can become dehydrated even in the cold weather.If you have any questions, please talk to your physiotherapist for more information on how you can prevent and/or manage back pain this winter!

    Lauren Handler Physiotherapist
    Pro Motion Physiotherapy

    Lewinson, R. T., Rouhi, G., & Robertson, D. G. E. (2014). Influence of snow shovel shaft configuration on lumbosacral biomechanics during a load-lifting task. Applied ergonomics45(2), 234-238.McGorry, R. W., Dempsey, P. G., & Leamon, T. B. (2003). The effect of technique and shaft configuration in snow shoveling on physiologic, kinematic, kinetic and productivity variables. Applied Ergonomics34(3), 225-231.