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Caring for Your Back This Winter

Published in For the Health of It, Rehabilitation Services Author: Kendra Lund,DPT

Shoveling is one of the most common sources of back injuries during the winter months. However, these injuries are completely preventable! Here are a few tips to help save your back from winter hibernation:

Winter Workout Warm-Up

With snow comes chilly temperatures which can be hard on our muscles. Before you head outdoors to shovel, it’s important to get in a good warm-up. These warm-ups will loosen up your muscles, making them more flexible and less prone to injury.

Your warm-up should be at least five minutes and should focus on your legs and lower back. Include a few squats, arm circles, and hamstring stretches. It is also helpful to do some light cardio before heading out to shovel, this could include marching in place or taking a few laps up and down your stairs.

Lifting Techniques

Even though we think of snow as light and fluffy, in a shovel it can be pretty heavy. It’s important to push snow whenever possible to avoid lifting. But when the time comes that you must lift the snow, be sure you are doing it ergonomically:

  • Face your hips and shoulders squarely in the direction you are moving the snow.
  • Bend your knees and lift the snow with your leg muscles, keeping your back straight and abdominal muscles braced.
  • Lift small loads of snow and, if needed, put one hand on the handle and one near the blade for better leverage.
  • Never twist at the waist to move snow a new direction. Instead turn your entire body in the direction you’re moving the snow.
  • Walk snow to its destination instead of tossing or reaching it away from your body.

Shovel Solutions

No matter how much snow you’re removing, the type of shovel you use is extremely important. Select shovels with a curved handle, limiting the amount of bending that is needed. You should also be sure that the shovel is the appropriate length. Shovels with handles that are too short will force you to bend more than necessary, causing unneeded strain on your back. So make sure the shovel reaches your chest. You can even purchase shovels with adjustable handles to be sure they are the perfect height.

In addition, plastic shovels are better for your back because it is less overall weight to lift. For this same reason, you should also consider using a smaller bladed shovel. Although it will take longer to get the work done, it will help you limit your load so that it won’t be too heavy for your back.

Lift Lightly

When shoveling, we tend to want to get the job done as quickly as we can. However, it’s important to take your time and not overdo it. Even though it may take longer, moving small piles of snow will put less stress on your back and body. If snow piles are thick, remove it in layers. Also, take a two-minute break every 15 to 20 minutes or whenever you are feeling overworked.