Shoveling Snow 101 – How To Protect Your Back

Every winter, thousands of intrepid souls venture out to clear walkways and driveways with their trusty show shovel, only to aggravate old injuries or incur new ones. The lower back is particularly vulnerable to the combination of bending, twisting, and weight-bearing we engage in when shoveling snow, and unfortunately what feels “natural” or “efficient” often increases the risks. In this video, Dr. Roth Powers identifies some of the biggest risk factors of shoveling snow, and demonstrates some methods that can help minimize the stresses to your back.

The first key recommendation is to try to get an early start and not let the snow pile up. If you are able to go outside at different times and “push” a couple of inches of snow rather than lift and throw it, you will naturally minimize the twisting and load-bearing stresses on your back. Getting out to do this a few different times can be challenging, as you may be at work or it may be snowing overnight, but if it is possible it is certainly the least stressful method.

The second recommendation is that if you do have to lift and throw snow, to do it in a way that does not rotate your pelvis one way while turning your spine in the other. There are a couple of shoveling “styles” that feel natural to us, mostly because our dominant handedness and/or the force we feel we can apply for leverage, but these “natural” methods can twist, bend, and compress the spine repeatedly. The preferred method is to when tossing to a certain side, to keep the opposite hand on the handle and the opposite leg forward. This may feel a bit unusual at first, and you may feel you have less leverage to “sling” a heavy load of snow, but it is an effective method of shoveling snow while minimizing the rotational and load-bearing stresses on your back.

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