Winter in Iowa means snow!  I just spent two days shoveling and pushing a snow blower myself and I was immediately reminded of all the opportunities to injure my back while doing it.  It does not matter if it is a couple of inches or 15 inches after a blizzard, safe shoveling techniques matter to keep us healthy. 

Here are some tips from your friendly chiropractor: 

  1. Warm It Up!  Snow shoveling, like any other exercise, can be intense and therefore requires a warmup!  Before shoveling, get the blood flowing by walking for a few minutes.  Muscles require blood to warm up, so actions that mimic snow shoveling will ensure your body is ready to do the work.  Be sure to take the time to warm up those hamstrings and quadriceps. The hamstrings are a major group of muscles at the back of your legs and the quads are some of the biggest and strongest muscles in the thighs.  Both have a big impact on your lower back. To save your back be sure to use your legs for the heavy lifting!  After warming up, some light static stretches for arms, legs, and back muscles will help reduce injuries.   
  2. The proper equipment makes all the difference. Make sure you have a shovel that is of an appropriate size for you. The best snow shovels are the “bent handle” ergonomic shovels.  These shovels allow you to do heavy lifting with your arms and prevent bending forward too much.  This forward bending movement most often is what leads to lower back injuries and soreness!  Snow shovels with long handles cause you to strain too much when lifting snow.  A shovel with a shorter handle can reduce the strain placed on your back. Always use your arm and leg muscles to lift heavy piles of snow. 
  3. Avoid the twisting throw!  Many people get into trouble when twisting to throw a shovel full of snow out of the way.  When you do this, lift the snow shovel to hip level using your arms/ legs, and try to twist slowly.  Avoid the sudden powerful throws which begin in the lower back.  These motions generate maximal torsion in the lower back leading to injuries.  If possible square off with the load and fully turn your body instead of just twisting at the waist.  Again, ergonomic shovels reduce the twisting injuries dramatically especially if you keep these other tips in mind.  
  4. See your chiropractor regularly.  One of the best ways to avoid injuries is to make sure your back is in proper alignment.  Alignment helps for all activities not just snow shoveling!  We all want to enjoy the winter weather but can’t if we are injured! So, make sure to use these tips to stay healthy between regular visits to the chiropractor!