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Snow Shoveling Tips to Prevent Back Pain

Posted on Tue, Jan 19, 2016

Avoiding Back Pain When Snow ShovelingWhether it’s frigid temperatures, freezing rain or blizzards, January and February are always the toughest in New Jersey. This time of year one of the more common causes of back pain we see from patients is from snow shoveling. Thankfully, injuries can be prevented by learning the proper ways to remove snow without straining the back. Our emergency medicine physicians have put together a few tips below on how to avoid back pain and injuries while removing snow and ice from driveways and sidewalks starting with a proper warm up.

Common Winter Back Pain and Injuries

Injuries associated with a severe winter likely can be numerous. Some common injuries include overworked low back, leg and arm muscles, orthopedic injuries and possible fractures from falling (broken arms, elbows, wrists, ankles, hips), muscle, ligament, tendon injuries and even heart-related problems. Prevention is the key to these injuries.

Cold Temperatures, Cold Muscles

That’s right. Shoveling snow is a rigorous and strenuous workout and you need to engage in a warm up before you begin. Cold muscles that tighten up are constricted and have limited mobility that can lead to injury. Increasing muscle temperature helps to loosen muscles for injury-preventing mobility and flexibility. A proper warm up also helps to ease your muscles into the movement so they can achieve their full range of motion safely.

Warm Up and Stretch

Get your blood flowing for 5 to 10 minutes with a few body weight exercises such as jumping jacks, arm circles, push-ups or the basic squat. Start slowly and gradually pick up speed as you build up heat. After your warm up, engage in a few stretches to loosen up the muscles. Torso rotation, cat/cow and hamstring stretches are great to help prevent low back pain.

Shovel Correctly

Choose an ergonomic snow shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length to help decrease the amount of bending required for each scoop. When possible, try to push the snow to one side rather than lifting it each time. Take smaller, more frequent loads – it may take a little longer, but picking up less snow with each scoop puts less strain on your spine and muscles. Avoid bending over as much as possible by using your legs to lift the shovel from a semi-squat position instead. Particularly if you suffer from back pain, it’s important to use the strength from your legs to lessen the load your low back has to take.

Forward Bend Stretch for Low Back Pain: Give it a Try!

As you start shoveling outside and feel your lower back tighten up, listen to your body and slow down or stop. Try this forward bend stretch with your shovel to alleviate some tension:
  • Hold the shovel handle in front of you with both hands with the shovel blade on the ground.
  • Walk your feet back, lower your chest, and stop once your feet are directly under your hips.
  • Relax your head down and pull your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Stretch here for at about 30 seconds, breathing deeply and allowing your lower back to feel a release.

When To See Your Doctor

Snow shoveling can be safe and injury-free (with the bonus of burning a few calories) if you prepare your muscles ahead of time and engage in a proper shoveling technique. But accidents can happen. If you or a loved one experiences back pain or an injury from shoveling, visit eMedical Urgent Care walk-in clinic. Learn more about our services and how we can treat you and your family by calling our location in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey (908) 464-6700, or Middletown, New Jersey (732) 957-0707. Winter is beautiful. Take a few moments to enjoy it and be safe as you clear your driveway!