Protecting your low back while shoveling the white stuff

snow-shovelingWe’ve been fortunate enough to make it this late into the season without having to move much snow but, with a cold lake that’s yet to freeze over we’re likely in for plenty of white stuff still to come this winter.
Some people like shoveling, it’s a good way to stay active and enjoy the elements of a cold snowy winter day and really it’s not that hard just bend, scoop, lift and twist rite? Not quite at least not if you want to prevent a low back injury. Awkward bending, lifting and twisting are not good on the spine especially with a load of heavy snow on the end of a shovel.  A previous research study on disc pressure measurements found the spine while flexed forward, coupled with rotation can increase the amount of pressure on the Lumbar discs by as much as 400%.  Even if you spent the offseason training for winter shoveling, chances are good that you’re back is not well prepared for such a dramatic pressure increase.

How do I prevent a shoveling disaster?

  1. Get it while its light, even if that means shoveling multiple times a day.  Exercise is good for you, lifting heavy sometimes slush filled snow while fatiguing from all the heavy lifting is not.  If you can’t get to the driveway until the work day is done pace your self or take shifts, shoveling after a full day of sitting is asking a lot of the back.  Don’t get me wrong, shoveling is a great way to get some exercise after a day of work, you’ll strengthen the back, core, legs, arms, heart….. if done correctly and in moderation.
  2. Better your shoveling technique, instead of creating a hump at the low back while forcefully lifting and twisting, work on finding a neutral spine position, using more of your legs and hinging at your hips.  Using a shovel with a curved handle can go a long way as well by decreasing the amount of bend and stress required on the body compared to a straight handled shovel.

Try these tips out, you may have some delayed onset muscle soreness the next day but that’s expected when performing movements that aren’t normally a part of your daily routine.  Now, if the soreness persists, you find the pain is creating a burning like feeling into your leg or even worse the pain comes on mid activity first stop whatever it is that you’re doing, rest and get in touch with us, we’ll diagnose, treat and then give you some corrective home exercises to ensure you get on the path to a quick recovery.

Lastly, if you’re anything like us, you’re probably not thinking of or implementing proper shoveling technique when the snow starts to pile up.  Learning some basic home exercises, spending just a few minutes each day on maintaining a healthy back…..can go a long way in avoiding injury through bad shoveling mechanics or other common household chores.

Dr. Tom Sickler