We’re days away from official winter, and the weather forecasters are beginning to mention snow. Whether you love the white stuff or hate it, if you’re responsible for any sidewalks or driveways, there’s a good chance you’ll soon be out there with shovel in hand. In addition to making sure that you have all the right gear to keep you warm, you also need to make sure you know the right and wrong way to lift – and that your back is healthy enough to do so.
Our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey always sees an increase in the number of calls we get immediately after a snowstorm, and that’s because people try to shovel without making sure that they’re in shape. Snow is heavy and shoveling requires one of the most injury-prone motions: rotating while lifting and throwing. If you’ve been largely sedentary and haven’t strengthened the core muscles that support your spine, going out and shoveling is roughly the same as someone who has never lifted weights heading straight for the heaviest barbell in the room, without a spotter. Someone’s going to get hurt!
Shoveling snow may seem like just another household chore, like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn. In reality, it’s very different and involves the use of muscles that – once strained – take a long time to heal. The good news is that there are steps you can take and adjustments you can make that will let you get your driveway clear without causing yourself injury.
Before the snow begins to fall, invest in a shovel that is designed to push rather than lift.
- Make sure that you stretch and warm up your muscles before you go out to shovel. Lots of people wake up, see the snowfall, and head out with the idea of getting it done and then coming into the shower. Stretching can go a long way towards minimizing pain later.
- Second, don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Instead of waiting for the storm to be over, go outside and shovel every few hours as it’s falling to minimize the weight that you’re lifting. It will take the same amount of time in the end, but give your back a big break.
- Be aware of your posture while shoveling. Keep your back straight and bend your knees instead of rounding your back, which can cause stress on your muscles. Use your core, especially your hips and your hamstrings to add to your force.
It is really important that people who are vulnerable to back pain stay completely out of the shoveling game. Engaging a service or paying a neighbor’s teenager to help is a smarter option than risking your ability to engage in other activities that you enjoy. And as an additional health note: make sure you check with your general practitioner to make sure that you’re healthy enough to shovel snow. Snow shoveling is a known trigger for heart attacks.