How to avoid back injury when shoveling snow

Shoveling snow can be more than just a pain in the back. If you're not careful, it can land you in the emergency room. The Washington Post reported that in 2012, 34,200 people were treated in emergency rooms for snow-removal-related injuries and that the most common ailment among them was musculoskeletal strains in the lower back, shoulders and knees.

"A lot of people aren't in great shape . . . and instead of your muscles taking on the weight of the snow, the burden of the task is taken on by the bones," said Claudette Lajam, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center's Hospital for Joint Diseases, in an interview with the Washington Post.

When there's a lot of powder to contend with, it's easy to take on a bit more than you can handle and get hurt. It's better if you don't overexert yourself, but if you need to shovel a lot of snow this winter, here are some ways you can prevent any serious injury:

  • Warm up. Like an athlete before a big game, you need to stretch and warm up before you go to work on your snow-covered driveway.
  • Push, don't lift. One of the easiest ways to mess with your back is to try to lift heavy amounts of snow and then throw it. Instead, use your shovel as a pushing tool and get rid of the snow that way.
  • Use a smaller shovel. It might seem more efficient to use a big shovel, but the more weight you burden yourself with, the more susceptible you are to injury.  Swap that big shovel for a smaller one to encourage smaller loads and lessen the strain on your back.
  • Stay hydrated and take breaks. Shoveling snow is serious exercise, so you should treat it as such. Take frequent breaks for water and to catch your breath. Your body will appreciate it.
  • Use proper lifting techniques. If you're going to be lifting heavy snow, remember the basics of proper lifting: lift with your legs and not your back, keep your back straight and never twist.
  • Take it slow. As much as you want to get this chore out of the way and go back inside for hot cocoa and a nap, rushing through it can cause you to injure yourself. It's important that you pace yourself through shoveling so you don't raise your heart rate and blood pressure too drastically.
  • Shovel fresh snow. Snow is easiest to remove when it's freshly fallen. If you can, avoid the stuff that's already hardened to avoid the strain from carrying heavier loads.

If you're experiencing back pain from your snow shoveling, schedule an appointment with a professional chiropractor today.