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Snow shoveling 101

Shoveling is one of the most common causes of winter injuries.

By Ryan Soule, MS, NSCA-CPT
January 3, 2018

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Winter is here, which means sooner or later, many of us will be outside shoveling snow. Proper technique is important to manage back pain and decrease your risk of injury while clearing the driveways and sidewalks near our homes. These are the 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.

Press up

Press up: 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.

Kneeling trunk extension

Kneeling trunk extension: 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.

Lying lumbar rotation

Lying lumbar rotation: 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”:

  • Back straight
    Avoid twisting
    Close to body
    Keep 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.

Standing back bend

Standing back bend: 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, Physicians Neck & Back Center is here to help you resume activity.

About Ryan Soule, MS, NSCA-CPT

Ryan Soule works with the CORE program at Physicians Neck & Back Center (PNBC). CORE gives patients who have completed physical therapy at PNBC access to a specialized fitness center. Here, patients have the tools, resources and equipment to independently maintain the strength and mobility they gained through the PNBC rehab program. Ryan has his Master of Science in Exercise Physiology from the College of St. Scholastica and is a National Strength and Conditioning Association certified personal trainer. He is also the varsity head coach of a cross country and track and field team. Ryan enjoys living an active lifestyle. He runs and competes at distances from 5K to ultra-marathons. He also plays volleyball a few nights per week.

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