Save Your Back When Shoveling Snow
Improve Your Snow Shoveling Mechanics to Avoid Injury
‘Tis the season for hot cocoa, warm fires, and lots of snow. With snow comes shoveling, and unfortunately with shoveling comes injury. It is estimated that there are over 11,000 hospital visits each year due to injuries while shoveling snow. This number does not even include the thousands of people that see their primary care doctor with the onset of an injury. Many of these medical visits involve the low back including complaints of pain with movement, leg numbness, and the inability to maintain the proper posture. Lumbar injuries while shoveling are often due to the combination of repeated flexion and rotation of the spine. Adding the load of snow and having poor spine stabilization during the lift results in overload on the structures of the lumbar spine and resultant injury. Here are three exercises you can use to improve your shoveling mechanics in order to spend more time sipping cocoa by the fire, and less time in a physician’s waiting room.
- Hip Hinge – a proper movement pattern to bend forward and push snow involves flexion at the hips and knees, while maintaining a more neutral spine.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Using a broom stick, golf club, or wooden dowel, place the stock along your lumbar spine.
- The stick should come in contact with the back of your head, mid-thoracic spine (between your shoulder blades), and at the sacrum/mid-buttock.
- With a slight bend in your knees, hinge your hips by driving your buttock backwards, while maintaining the three points of contact throughout the movement.
- Perform ten repetitions
Common mistakes: squatting versus hinging – try and minimize knee bend. Your buttock should move backwards, not down.
Losing contact with the stick – if you notice the stick is leaving the sacrum the spine is flexing. Slow down the movement and move only as far as you can with contact.
- Isometric Hip Bridge – once you have properly bent forward to push and load the snow, using the buttock and hamstring muscles to lift the snow will decrease strain of muscles of the lower back.
- Start lying on your back, knees bent, and hands raised straight in the air.
- Push through your heels driving your hips upwards, hold for 5-10 seconds, and return. Repeat this movement 10 times.
- If you find that you feel this more in the low back than the legs or buttocks, try squeezing a pillow at your knees during the lift.
- Rotational Step – now that you have properly bent to load the snow, and used the proper muscles to lift it, increasing rotation at the hips to move the snow versus rotating through the lumbar spine will reduce torsional strain on the vertebral discs and spinal stabilizers.
- Begin by standing in an athletic stance with your feet shoulder width apart and slight bend in your knees.
- Keeping one foot in place, open up through your hips by stepping to the side and backwards. Your weight should be evenly distributed between the feet.
- Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement, being mindful not to bend forward or rotate through the spine.
- Perform 10 repetitions to each side.
See video demonstration of these exercises: here
Sean Duffey, DPT
Clinic Director, Ivy Rehab, Ortonville