Snow Shoveling Tips and Lifting Techniques to Keep Your Back Safe This Winter

Post Date: December 2016  |  Category: Health Tips Senior Health

Photo of older woman shoveling snow

Stay safe with these snow shoveling tips.

That moment when snowflakes start falling can be magical, but if you're the designated shoveler in your home, it can also make you anxious. It can be hard to relax and enjoy a winter wonderland when you know you've got a heavy—and potentially harmful—job to do.

Follow these snow shoveling tips to stay safe this winter.

Head Out Early—and Safely

It may be tempting to put off shoveling, but do yourself—and your back—a favor. Head out as soon as the storm lightens up. Snow is lighter and easier to shovel when it's freshly fallen. If deep snow is forecast, you can reduce your risk of injury by spreading out shoveling over a period of days. Plan to tackle a few inches at a time.

Before you get started, take precautions to reduce your risk of injury.

  • Warm up. You don't want to do any heavy lifting with cold muscles. To prevent back strain, try putting a hot water bottle or heating pad on your lower back for 10 to 20 minutes before getting ready to shovel. Next, do some light exercise to gently get your heart rate up: take a 10-minute walk, march in place, or do jumping jacks.
  • Limber up. Once your muscles are warm, spend a few minutes stretching. For lower back support, it's especially important to loosen up your hamstrings—the muscles on the back of your legs. You can stretch your hamstring from a standing position by extending one leg out in front of you, then leaning forward from your hips until you feel the stretch on the back of your thigh. If you have back pain, stretch on the floor. Lie on your back with both legs bent. Next, lift one leg straight up while keeping the other leg in a bent position. Wrap your arms around the back of your extended leg, and pull it closer to your chest. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Bundle up. Wear enough layers to stay warm while you're working. You may find that putting an adhesive heat wrap on your lower back helps keep your back muscles warm and reminds you to pay attention to your form while shoveling.
  • Boot up. When it comes to injury prevention, sturdy, slip-resistant footwear is crucial. Wear insulated, waterproof boots with good rubber treads.

Grab the Right Equipment

When choosing a shovel, consider an ergonomic model. This type of shovel has a curved handle, which reduces your need to bend to pick up snow.

For proper, injury-preventing form, focus on these snow shoveling tips:

  • Move snow in small batches. Use a small shovel or fill a larger shovel no more than halfway with each scoop.
  • Don't throw snow! Lifting or twisting with outstretched arms puts pressure on your back. Instead, walk to your snow pile and deposit each new load without reaching or throwing.
  • Lift safely. Use your legs—never your back—for power. Keep your knees bent, your back straight, and the snow-load close to your body.
  • Pace yourself. Don't rush to get the job done. Shoveling snow is vigorous exercise! Don't shovel for more time than you would normally put into a workout. Listen to your body and take frequent breaks to rest and stretch.

When you've finished shoveling, spread sand, rock salt, or kitty litter on your sidewalk and driveway to reduce the risk of slipping. Try an ice melt spreader to ensure you're not using too much or too little.

Proper Lifting Techniques for Other Outdoor Activities

If you live in a warm part of the country, you may not have to shovel out your driveway, but following proper lifting techniques can help you protect your spine and avoid a painful back injury when completing other household tasks and yard work.

  • Dress appropriately. Make sure you're wearing shoes with nonslip soles. If it's cool, wear layers you can easily remove, such as a windbreaker, to avoid overheating.
  • Stretch it out. Before you lift anything, gently stretch your back, hamstrings, shoulders, and arms. Stretch until you feel a mild tension and hold each stretch steadily for five to ten seconds. Remember to breathe and take your time.
  • Plan ahead. Before you pick up a heavy object, make a plan. Test the weight of the object by lifting up one corner. If you think it may be too heavy for you to lift on your own, consider splitting the load up when possible or enlisting the help of a friend or family member. Decide on the path you will take once you pick up your load. Do you need to clear your route of any obstacles? Are there any steps or slopes you'll need to navigate? Is there somewhere you can easily stop to rest if need be?
  • Bend your knees, not your back. Get close to the item you're lifting, and stand with a wide stance, with your feet about shoulder-width apart and one foot slightly in front of the other. This will give you a strong base from which to lift. Then, bend at your knees rather than bending your back to pick up your load.
  • Get a good grip. Use your palms rather than your fingertips to get a strong grip on the object. Holding the object close to your body can help alleviate strain on your back. If the item is ungainly, consider using a box with handles or a wheelbarrow to make the move.
  • Pay attention to your posture. When carrying heavy objects or performing yard work, such as raking, avoid twisting your spine. Instead, move your whole body, using your feet to make a turn while keeping your back in a neutral position, maintaining the natural curve in your lower back.

When your hard work is done, head back inside and treat yourself to a hot mug of herbal tea or a glass of water and a soothing bubble bath to relax your muscles.

 

Sources:

Spine-Health.com, Snow Shoveling Techniques to Prevent Low Back Injuries

Spine-Health.com, 4 Tips to Protect Your Back When Shoveling

Mayo Clinic, Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling

WebMD, The Pitfalls of Snow Shoveling

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Prevent Snow Shoveling and Snowblowing Injuries

Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Winter Weather: Plan. Equip. Train.

Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Back Injury Prevention

Mayo Clinic, Proper Lifting Techniques

AARP, Raking Leaves


These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.