Winter is here and that means that sooner or later many of us will be outside shoveling snow. But that begs the question: Are you shoveling the right way?

Proper technique is important for managing back pain and decreasing your risk of a serious back injury while clearing driveways and sidewalks. It’s also important long-term. Improper body mechanics is one of the common causes of chronic back pain because it can speed up wear and tear on your body.

These are four things I recommend when heading outside to shovel.

1. Warm up to shovel with cardio

Start off with a light warm-up consisting of 3 to 5 minutes of cardio. This will increase your heart rate and the amount of oxygen going to your muscles. This will also decrease your risk of a muscle strain.

2. Stretch to prepare your lower back for shoveling

Add a few stretches to your warm-up that target your lower back. Repeat each stretch 2 to 4 times.

Lie on your stomach, supporting your body with your forearms. Press your elbows down into the floor to raise your upper back. As you do this, relax your stomach muscles and allow your back to arch without using your back muscles. As you press up, do not let your hips or pelvis come off the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then relax.

Get down on your hands and knees on the floor. Relax your head, and allow it to droop. Round your back up toward the ceiling until you feel a nice stretch in your upper, middle and lower back. Hold this stretch for as long as it feels comfortable, or about 15 to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position with a flat back while you are on all fours.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bring one knee to your chest and then the other. Don’t raise both legs together. Rotate slowly from side to side. Relax and lower your legs one at a time to the floor.

3. Use proper lifting mechanics while shoveling

Once you’re outside, proper lifting mechanics are extremely important to decrease your risk of a back injury. Lifting 20 pounds with the weight 20 inches away from your lower back, which is typically where the snow on the shovel is, can act like 635 pounds of force on your lower back. This is not normal for the low back and can lead to a high risk of injury. To help you with proper lifting mechanics, remember “BACK”:

  • B ack straight
  • A void twisting
  • C lose to body
  • K eep smooth

4. Correct your posture frequently as you shovel

One of the most important things you can do while shoveling is correct your posture as you go. This is very easy to do with a standing back bend. Perform this stretch as frequent as possible while shoveling.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward. Do not lock your knees. Place your hands on your back, palms at your waist. Lengthen up through your spine, all the way through the crown of your head. Keeping your legs straight, bend backward over your hands without arching your neck. Hold the pose for 1 to 2 seconds. Return to standing.

Winter should not be a time to worry about getting hurt. Winter is a time for fun and games and warm fires. If you remember to warm up, stretch, use proper lifting mechanics by remembering “BACK” and correct your posture, you will decrease your risk of injuring your back while you shovel.

However, in the unfortunate event that you develop chronic back pain, TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program, formerly known as the Physicians Neck and Back Center (PNBC), is here to help you resume activity.