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Protecting your back while shoveling snow

Shoveling snow and protecting your back

Photo Credit: Flickr/Erik Ogan

Protecting your back while shoveling snow

By Carolyn Hauck on February 12, 2015

Medical experts on JustAnswer see a fair amount of back pain questions related to snow shoveling this time of year. While they’re able to offer help after the fact, here are some suggestions for protecting against injury altogether.

Rethink shoveling as exercise

Before you even pick up the shovel, prepare yourself for the task in the way you would before heading out on a run, swimming laps or going for a bike ride. Shoveling is in fact an aerobic activity, so you should do some mild back and hamstring stretches ahead of time. Many people who complain of back pain or injury from shoveling snow might not have exercised in a while.

Assume the correct position

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent with your torso straight up and down.
  • Make sure your shoulder blades are reaching down your back to take the strain off your neck and shoulders.
  • Slightly engage your stomach muscles to protect your lower back.
  • Square the front of your shoulders and your hips in front of the snow you are going to begin shoveling.
  • Keep your arms bent and hold the shovel close to your body, being careful not to stretch your arms straight out in front of you when picking up the snow.
  • Bend at your hip crease, not your waist. Many people picture bending at your hips as the top of your hips, not the bottom where your hips meet your legs. This is where your hip socket is and acts like a proper hinge for the upper half of your body.

Pay attention to how you move

  • Many injuries occur when people stand in one position and either twist or throw snow to the side or over their shoulders. Instead, pick up a manageable amount of snow and walk over to where you will dump it.
  • If you are going to swivel around from one position to dump the snow, make sure you pivot from your feet and not your waist. Your entire body should move in the same direction. You should never have one half of your body facing one direction while the other half moves in a different direction.
  • Pace yourself. Move slowly and drink water as you work. Remember, shoveling is exercise.

Use the right tools

  • Investing in a good, ergonomic shovel is also an investment in your health.
  • You might also want to consider switching to a snow blower, especially if you live in areas experiencing increased snowfall.

 If you do hurt yourself, doctors and nurses on JustAnswer like Nurse Milli recommend an anti-inflammatory pain reliever like ibuprofen (as long as you’re not allergic) and rest, making sure not to lie down on your back all the way. Keep your body at a slight angle with pillows and place a pillow under your knees if you have lower back pain. If the pain gets worse or persists for more than 2 or 3 days, you should contact at doctor.

For specific back pain symptoms or worry, talk with a medical expert now.