10 Tips To Protect Your Back While Shoveling

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The lower back is particularly vulnerable during shoveling
The lower back is particularly vulnerable during shoveling

It was my turn to shovel this morning (and schlep the recycling to the curb) and my lower back is now rebelling.

So, for next time, or for those who have not yet ventured out, here are some tips from Dr. Julio Martinez-Silvestrini, a Baystate Medical staff physiatrist, (aka, a rehabilitation doctor) on how to avoid back injuries while shoveling.

1. Warm up a little before venturing outside (he suggests stretching or marching in place).

2. Shovel early: freshly-fallen snow is easier to deal with than the really wet, packed down variety

3. Lift smaller loads of snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls. Take care to bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than with your back.

4. Size matters: Use a shovel with a handle that lets you keep your back straight while lifting. A short handle will cause you to bend more to lift the load. Using a shovel that’s too long makes the weight at the end heavier.

5. Don't twist. "Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow to prevent the lower back from twisting. This will help avoid the “next-day back fatigue” experienced by people who shovel snow."

6. If possible, push the snow away instead of lifting it.

7. Take frequent breaks when shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.

8. Standing backward-bending exercises will help reverse the excessive forward bending that occurs while shoveling; stand straight and tall, place your hands toward the back of your hips, and bend backward slightly for several seconds.

9. Most pain goes way after a day or two, Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini notes, but as to the confusion over whether to use ice or heat after injuring your back, he offers this: “Apply a cold pack as soon as possible after the injury at least several times a day for up to 20 minutes. Then apply heat after two to three days to relax your muscles and increase blood flow."

10. This is the one I considered most seriously while I was panting in the driveway earlier: Hire the young, fit, snowplow-endowed kid down the block to do the work.

For more tips on the hospital's web site from Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini, look here.

This program aired on January 27, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Health Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for Bostonomix.