By: Janell Strupp, Physical Therapist, Certified Pilates Instructor
Snow shoveling is a repetitive activity that can lead to muscle strain, especially in the lower back and shoulders. Back injuries due to snow shoveling may be prevented with these few minor changes in body mechanics.
Following these tips can help you avoid injuries:
1. Lift smaller loads of snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls.
2. Be sure to take care to bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than your back. Maintain the correct "neutral" spine alignment, so that your hips can serve as the "hinge," taking stress off your spine.
3. Choose a shovel with a shaft length that allows you keep your back straight while lifting. A shaft too short can cause excessive bending while lifting the load, while a shaft too long dramatically increases the undesirable weight bearing forces being placed through your spine.
4. Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow to prevent the low back from twisting. Avoiding excessive twisting movements, especially when combined with bending, may help prevent “next-day back fatigue.”
5. Take frequent breaks when shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.
6. Backward bending exercises while standing may help reverse the excessive forward bending strain of shoveling. Stand, place your hands against your low back for support, and bend backwards slightly for several seconds. Repeat up to 10 times. Perform this exercise to comfort: before, during and after the snow shoveling activity as a prevention strategy to ward off lower back pain.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing acute or chronic back, shoulder, or other pain, please consult a licensed physical therapist to develop an individualized plan of care.