The onset of winter brings a new form of exercise for many people – snow shoveling! Snow shoveling has to be done by most of us at some time, whether predictably or unexpectedly (such as freeing a stuck vehicle). Snow removing can take a physical toll on your body, particularly your back, shoulders and spine. A spokesperson for the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) stated that lower back strain and herniated disks are the most common back injuries sustained while snow shoveling. Additionally, a study published by Brad Coffiner in Cornell University’s ergonomic department 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.” Recognizing the lower back is especially susceptible to strain or injury, it would be prudent to review steps to prevent injury. and both offer tips you can follow that will help prevent injuries and make show shoveling a bit safer.

  • Warm muscles work better. Warm up inside and incorporate stretches to help prepare your muscles for the upcoming work.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear warm clothing and insulated snow boots or shoes with good traction.
  • Choose a proper shovel. Consider two types of snow shovels: one lifts loads of snow, while the other – with a wide, curved blade – is used as a “plow.” Make sure both types of shovels have curved handles with plastic, lightweight blades. The curved handle helps you keep your back straight when lifting the snow-filled blade off the ground – or when you push snow aside with the plowing shovel. Make sure the handle of your snow shovel reaches your chest.
  • Do not try to shovel all the snow at once. Shovel small amounts at a time, preferably fresh snow. Fresh snow is lighter weight; so clear it as soon as it has fallen if possible.
  • Practice the proper technique. It is advised to push the snow with the shovel as opposed to lifting it.
    • Space your hands apart for leverage. This makes it easier to lift a blade filled with snow.
    • Space your feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Bend at the knees – not the waist. If you do bend at the waist, bring your hands closer to the end of the shovel or get a shovel with a longer handle.
    • Tighten your abdominal muscles every time you lift a load of snow.
    • Keep your head down and in line with a straight back.
    • Keep each shovelful close to the body. Avoid extending your arms.
    • Minimize the distance you carry the snow. Walk each shovelful just a few feet, as close to the ground as you can, then dump it by flipping the handle with your wrists. Avoid throwing loads of snow over your shoulder.
    • Clear deep snow layer by layer.
    • Pace yourself, and stay hydrated.

Unfortunately, we see many injuries from snow shoveling each winter. It is necessary that you pace yourself and practice common sense. If you are unable to physically handle the work, you can hire a snow removal company, or even a neighbor to assist you. For those of us who are able-bodied, it is important to remember those who may need assistance. A few minutes to help clear someone’s path and driveway can make a world of difference for them, as well as make you a good neighbor! For details on how Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan can help you recover from a snow shoveling injury, call us at 616-459-7101. Sources:  American Academy of Orthopaedic SurgeonsCornell University,