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Snow Shoveling Tips for a Healthy Back

February 11th, 2016

Illustration of a Man Shoveling Snow

Maryland snowfalls can be unpredictable—so can the back pain caused by shoveling snow incorrectly.

Following these simple tips from the spine specialists at Towson Orthopaedic Associates can help predict a healthy back this winter.

Choose the Right Snow Shovel

Ergonomic snow shovels (high-strength plastic) can reduce stress on the back

Buy a shovel that is light to hold and has a curved handle

An adjustable handle length will minimize painful bending over

Wax your shovel so snow doesn’t stick to the blade and add to unnecessary weight (nonstick cooking oil sprays work best)

Ice-melting products can help with thick slabs of ice that can’t be broken with your shovel

Stretch Before You Lift

A few exercises and prior planning will help you get prepared for the hard work of shoveling snow:

Do you have an exercise ball? Sit on the ball for 10-15 minutes prior to going out to shovel snow. You can glide front to back and side to side to warm up. Be careful not to fall off the ball!!!

Hamstring stretch – lie on your back on the floor, elevate your legs and place your feet as high as you can on a wall. You will feel the stretching of the muscles in the back of your thigh. Stay in this position for 1-2 minutes. An alternative is to hold the leg up and straight with a towel wrapped behind the foot and hold for 30 seconds.

Neck, arm, and shoulder stretches – chin to chest, ear to shoulder, arm swing (swing your arms to give yourself a body hug and hold for 30 seconds)

Knee to chest, side lying bridge, and upper body extension are good to perform before shoveling. Lie on your back bend your knees and hips and bring them to your chest slowly. Lie on your side, bend your knees and lift your pelvis off the floor in a controlled fashion. Finally, lie on your stomach and gently raise your upper body supported by your arms and hold that position. Hold each of these positions for 10-20 seconds and repeat 5- 10 times.

Use Proper Lifting Techniques

Pace yourself and take brakes to give your muscles time to recover.

Switch hands periodically to prevent muscle overuse as well as grip type (palm under vs. palm over handle)

Bend at the hips and knees, brace your core, and lift with your legs

Push rather than lift snow

Don’t twist (square your shoulders and hips to the snow load)

Keep loads light and the shovel blade closest to you to reduce back strain

Do not extend your arms to throw the snow – walk instead of reaching

Utilize Common Sense

Shovel early – fresh-fallen snow is easier to lift than wet or compacted snow

Shovel snow in layers in the event of deeper snowfall or underlying ice

Dress in layers to stay warm

Wear proper footwear to prevent falling

Shoveling is hard work!! Would you go to the gym and lift weights without a rest. Pace yourself and take breaks!!!

Stop immediately if you feel any discomfort. Use ice on sore muscles.

Drink plenty of water! (shoveling is a form of exercise – you can still get dehydrated in cold weather)

Consider help from family, friends, or neighbors.