Snowfall brings some great, fun activities, like sledding, building snowmen, and making snow angels. Unfortunately, it also brings chores, the biggest of which is shoveling all that snow so that you can get about your day. Especially in areas that get frequent snow throughout the winter season, back aches and pain associated with shoveling snow are common, but they don’t have to be. Here are some tips to protect your back:
1) Warm up- take 5-10 minutes to warm up your body and get the blood flowing. You can start with some static stretches (that means standing and holding the stretch-don’t bounce as you perform the movement), like standing quad stretches, side bending stretches, hamstring stretches, and even a gentle back bend. Perform each stretch 2-3 times, for about 30 seconds. Then you can move on to some basic core exercises like crunches, bridges, planks, or side planks to get your muscles engaged and fired up. Perform a set of 10 reps for core exercises of your choice.
2) Use proper mechanics- Most people bend over their shovel from the waist and then twist their bodies to throw the snow behind them, over and over again. It’s this repetitive motion that leads to back problems. Instead, bend from your knees, keep your back straight, your stomach muscles tight, and keep the shovel closer to you. Turn your whole body when you throw the snow-do not twist. Use your whole body, not just your upper body and back.
3) Hold the shovel correctly- The most important thing to remember when holding your shovel is to keep one hand on the grip and one hand closer to your body. Both arms should be about shoulder width apart. Keep your arms bent and elbows at your sides when you are lifting the snow. Use your legs to step into the throwing motion to get rid of the snow.
4) Be strategic- Be smart about when you shovel and how much snow you take onto the shovel at one time. Generally speaking, its best (and safest) to wait until the end of a snowfall and see how much snow you have to deal with. If you’re shoveling a foot or more of snow, shovel off the top half first and then move the bottom layer- don’t try to get it all on your shovel at once. If it’s just 3-4 inches, you can shovel as you normally would. Just take your time and don’t rush.
Jon Cinkay is a physical therapist and exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Department. He is the Body Mechanics Coordinator at HSS, promoting safe body mechanics.