Okay, so maybe not everybody is always excited about the white stuff falling from the sky, but let’s face it, here in Allentown there is always going to be some snow. Some years more than others, but nonetheless you need to be prepared for it. The way we can help you prepare for it is how to shovel so that it does not lead to any back problems. In physical therapy it is not uncommon for us to see an influx of new patients that are having back pain in the week following a snowstorm, especially when it really piles up outside. There are a few tips that you can follow so that you can keep your back healthy when shoveling snow and not end up in physical therapy.
How To Shovel Properly
This seems pretty obvious, but just shovelling with proper technique is going to be huge. Here are a few simple pointers to follow:
- Keep your back straight when you hinge forward from the hips with a little knee bend
- Use your legs and hips to help lift the snow up
- Minimize twisting and use forward momentum to throw snow straight ahead
- Keep arms close to the body rather than reaching to throw the snow
- Don’t let your back round forward as you throw keeping good upright posture
- Switch hands back and forth to avoid over using one side of the body and bringing it out of balance
When you can push the snow forward using your bodyweight and legs to push the snow then do so. This is much less taxing and will minimize your chance of injury.
Don’t Fill the Shovel
By helping to minimize the amount of weight on a shovel full of snow it will not be as demanding on the body. A shovel full of more dense snow can weigh between 20-40 pounds. This is at the end of the shovel lever arm, so the forces on the body can really add up. If you decide to go this route just remember that you will also have to use more shovel fulls to clear your path, but less weight and more reps is usually a little easier for people to handle.
Warm Up and Stay Toasty
It is a good idea to get the body moving a bit before heading out and really attacking the snow. You can start off with a few arm circles back and forth as well as some bodyweight squats or sit to stands into a chair. 10-15 of each of these should get the blood pumping enough to get you ready.
Once you are warm, it is important to stay this way. Layer up to avoid getting cold, but also the layers are important as you can peel them off as you go. This allows you to not get too sweaty, which when the wind starts whipping could actually let you cool off a bit too much and increase your chances of injury.
Take a Break (and Hydrate)
When there is a lot of snow on the ground and it is just too much to tackle all at once, then it is time to take a break. This could be 2 minutes to just go in and get a drink of water (important since you perspire more than you realize when you are bundled up and shovelling, which also reduces risk of injury) or going in for an hour and sipping some hot cocoa by the fire. The short or long break can be just enough to make sure you do not fatigue too much to start using bad movement patterns that often lead to a back injury when shovelling.
Stay Ahead of the Build Up
With a small amount of snow (4 inches or less) this is probably not a big deal, but anything more and you may want to get every few hours to keep clearing the snow away. This ensures that you will not have too much on each shovel full that tends to put increased stress on the back.
Ask for Help
Sometimes you need to just ask for help. This is important to recognize when you need it. Whether it is a big snowfall, you are not feeling well, your back already hurts a little bit or you just do not feel comfortable being outside to shovel you need to ask for help. A lot of times there are neighbors or family members that would love to help out.
What Shovel (or equipment) to Use
Here we get into something that is not always considered, the type of shovel you use. This choice really can make or break your back. Check it out and choose wisely:
- 18”-24” Shovel: Typical snow throwing shovel. The more narrow, the less weight of the snow.
- Offset Handle: Excellent choice to help reduce back strain
- Material: Plastic and aluminum are a little lighter, but not as durable as steel
- 30” Shovel: Here is where you want to go when pushing snow. Gets a wider path and requires less pushes
- Square/Scoop Shovel: Works well for dense snow or when there is a bit of ice on top to help break through as it is often metal
- Broom: Push or sweep the light stuff away
- Snowblower: If you have it, then go for it. These can do a lot of the work for you and take that pressure off the low back, especially if shovelling makes you a little nervous.
Wax On, Wax Off
A fun little tip can be waxing your shovel. This simple trick can help stop snow from sticking and just fly off over the horizon the the big snow pile in your neighbor’s yard.
For those of you who are looking for a little more info on preventing low back pain when shovelling snow then check out our Free Low Back Pain Video Course. Through the course and following the steps above you will be well on your way to keeping your back strong and avoiding injury as clear the sidewalk and driveway.
If you are ready to get started right away then do not hesitate to give a call at 610-841-3555 and get started on the path to healing right away.
That’s all for now! Feel free to post any questions in the comments section below and if you sign up for a course you will be able to get to stay on top of all things Robbins Rehab!