How to protect your back while shoveling snow

Feel Good, Health and Fitness

Living in Michigan provides us with a front row seat to nature’s beauty. Winter in Michigan can be beautiful when everything is blanketed with glistening snow, though some may dread the cleanup that comes with the snowfall. Shoveling snow can be a daunting task, especially if you’re prone to back pain. “There are some simple steps you can take to keep safe while shoveling snow,” says Todd May PT, DPT, OMPT, Director of Rehab Services at McLaren Port Huron. “It’s all about planning ahead and being mindful of your movements.”

Snow Shoveling Basics

  1. Select the right tools – choose a snow shovel that is lightweight and one that is ergonomically designed. This will help keep your back straight and reduce undue stress on your back.
  2. Dress for the weather - dress in layers and select clothing that is easy to move in. Wear boots that keep your feet warm and dry while providing good traction.
  3. Warm up your muscles before beginning – take some time to stretch before beginning.
  4. Use proper form. Bend your knees, keep your back straight and push the snow away from you. Avoid twisting motions and lifting the shovel.
  5. Maintain balance – be mindful of icy patches. If the ground is icy or slick, spread sand or salt over the area to help create foot traction. Be aware that some areas may be uneven and could cause you to slip, trip or fall.
  6. Monitor the weather – don’t wait until the storm passes. Start removing snow when it is lighter and go back out to shovel as more snow falls.
  7. Stay hydrated and take frequent breaks. “A good rule of thumb is to take a 10 to 15-minute break for each hour of strenuous activity,” says Todd. “Your body will thank you later.”
  8. Be heart smart – people may not realize how physical this task is. If you are someone of advanced age or if you have significant cardiac risk factors, consider using a snow removal service or purchasing a snow blower. If you experience chest pain while shoveling snow, don’t delay – call 9-1-1 immediately.

If you think you’ve injured yourself after a vigorous day of snow removal, and rest, heat/ice or over-the-counter medications have not improved your pain or function, consider calling your primary care physician or checking out physical therapy. The team at McLaren Port Huron can work with you to address pain, improve function, improve strength, restore joint mobility, restore range of motion and help get you back doing the things you enjoy.