Tips for Shoveling Snow

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! Although the snow may be delightful to watch coming down, the shoveling that is most likely to follow may be somewhat frightful. That’s because this is an activity that can cause back pain flare-ups or create new, onset back pain. This can be especially true for individuals who may not be used to a lot of physical exertion or those who, due to COVID-19, have dramatically decreased their activity level and are not as physically able to exert themselves as they once were.  

It is always a good idea to try to maintain strong muscles and healthy joints by performing regular physical activity long before the snow starts to fall to help prevent injury when it does come time to start shoveling. Here are some other useful tips you may want to consider in keeping yourself free from excessive pain or injury:

  1.  Warm up your muscles before heading out. Shoveling can be a high intensity exercise for some, so it is appropriate to perform some light stretches, especially to your back, legs and shoulders, before beginning. It is also a good idea to stretch when you are finished. 
  2. Find the right type of shovel. There are a lot of options out there, and some are better than others. A plastic shovel will be lighter than a metal one. One with a smaller blade may be better as you will not be able to load it as much, which puts less strain on your back. You may have to make more trips, but it will be worth it. There are shovels made purely for pushing snow, which is less strenuous than lifting the snow. See what is available at your local hardware store.
  3. Try to maintain a good, solid foundation. Keep your feet wide for balance. Wear boots that have good traction or put on snow cleats to help you keep your footing. If necessary, throw some sand or salt on areas that are very icy before you start shoveling. When you do have to lift the snow, engage your core muscles and try to throw it straight in front of you, instead of twisting to the side. 
  4. Start shoveling early and pace yourself. It’s better to remove small amounts of snow more often than to wait until it is very deep and compacted, making it significantly heavier. If it is very deep, try removing it in layers. Shoveling a strip down the middle of the driveway and then removing each side is better than trying to clear the entire width of the driveway. If you feel yourself becoming winded, sore or overworked, take breaks as needed.  

Despite following all of these tips you may still find yourself with some general pain and stiffness in various muscles, especially in your lower back. This is fairly normal and should not be cause for great concern. Your muscles are just letting you know they got a workout that they may not be used to. If this occurs, some gentle stretching, walking around the house or some ice/heat may be used to help lessen the soreness. Try to avoid going straight to the recliner and staying there the rest of the day. This will only allow your muscles to become stiffer due to lack of blood flow from not moving. If your pain does not subside after a couple of days or a few weeks, becomes progressively worse or intolerable or starts shooting down your legs, you may benefit from seeing a physical therapist to help treat your pain.  Happy shoveling, and stay safe!