Are you shoveling correctly?
Since the past two storms, we have seen an increase in the number of cases of low back pain due to shoveling or snow blowing. Shoveling snow is combining weight lifting and aerobics in one activity that is required of us only parts of the year. During this activity, we are required to recruit muscles that we do not use on a regular basis often in motions that are not ergonomically correct or proper for our spines. Wet snow can weigh as much as 25 pounds on a shovel! Jean-Jacques Abitbol, MD quoted in his article on SpineUniverse.com “a study published by Cornell University indicated “…when handling heavy snow with a shovel, the L5-S1 disc has been identified as the weakest link in the body segment chain. The most severe injuries and pain are likely to occur in the back region.””
Improper shoveling can cause the following:
- Disc injury
- Discogenic pain (irritation of the disc causing pain)
- Sprain/strain of the spine – Injury of the ligaments and/or muscles supporting the spine
- Muscular fatigue
- Overuse injuries
The top cause of back pain resulting from shoveling is repeated twisting and bending. Leaning forward and repetitive twisting with a heavy load in front of you, followed by the “twist and throw” movement causes the most injury to the spine.
What is the proper technique?
- Dynamic warm up: try performing shoulder shrugs, arm circles, planks, standing high knees, squats, an light stretching to prepare your body for activity.
- Proper form:
- Remove leaning forward, bending and twisting at the waist.
- Instead use your whole body to help you (ankles, hips, knees). Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight.
- Keep in mind to keep your core contracted to prevent further injury!
- Push the snow to the snow bank.
- If you must throw, step into the throw to avoid excessive twisting.
- Scoop small amounts.
- Switch between left and right sides with the shovel.
- Grip the shovel with your hands about 12 inches apart. As you increase the distance between your hands, you will have more leverage and reduce strain on the body.
- Take breaks! As with any other exercise, weight lifting or aerobic, hydration is key to provide nutrients to the working muscles as well as speed recovery time.
- Pace yourself. Try to shovel during the snow and after it is done. The aerobic activity of this activity can affect the cardiovascular system. If there is any hint of shortness of breath or chest pain, you should stop and seek medical attention immediately.
- Dress Properly:
- Wear comfortable, warm shoes with grip on the bottom. These shoes will help you stay on your feet while performing this activity without slipping on ice!
- Warm clothes, preferably with layers, to keep your muscles warm and flexible.
- Wear a hat – body heat is lost through the head.
- Wear gloves that will keep your hands dry and warm but also allow for a firm grip on the shovel.
What kind of shovel?
The smaller the shovel, the better. If you have a shovel that is capable of handling large loads of snow, you are more likely to shovel improperly and increase your chance of spinal injury. Many stores sell ergonomic shovels (shovels with curved handles) that promote proper spinal posture while shoveling.
Snowblowers are not in the clear, either! They are a great piece of equipment but can also place strain on your back or cause injury. Many people try to twist and rip the cord to use the machine but this action is similar to what is described above and can be just as detrimental. A snowblower is designed to move the snow at a particular rate. Try not to force the snowblower to go faster just to finish the job. Let it do the work for you!
IMPORTANT: As stated earlier, if you experience any chest pain and shortness of breath, stop and seek medical assistance.
Are you experiencing back or extremity pain after shoveling or snowblowing? We can help! Call us to schedule an appointment at 207-866-7000.
- Abitbal, Jean-Jaques. “Tips for Snow Shoveling: How to Avoid Back Pain” SpineUniverse, spineuniverse.com/wellness/ergonomics/tips-snow-shoveling-how-avoid-back-pain. 21 November 2017.
- Rehan, Kelly. “How to Shovel Snow and Prevent Back Pain” SpineUniverse, spineuniverse.com/wellness/prevention/how-shovel-snow-prevent-back-pain. 21 November 2017.
- “Stay Safe During Winter Activities.” American Chiropractic Association. acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Winter-Activities
- DeSimone, Grace T. “The Scoop on Shoveling Success.” American College of Sports Medicine. Vol. 2 No. 1. 2017.