It’s the most injury prone tiiiime of the yeeearrrrrr! My version of that song probably isn’t as appealing to most as the original. But it is that time of year again. When you have to be ready to leave the house a little bit earlier in the morning to make sure you have enough time to clear the snow off your driveway. The positive side of this is that mother nature has essentially forced you to get more exercise than might be your natural inclination. The down side of this is that it also leads to many low back and shoulder injuries due to shovelling snow. Back pain can be very limiting for people, so here are a few tips on how to prevent it:

Lift with your butt, not your back:

Your gluteal muscles (or “glutes”) are some of the most powerful muscles in your body. When people say “lift with your knees”, it’s essentially your glutes they are referring to. If you make extra effort to bend your knees, and keep your low back arched (curved forwards. not rounded/slouched), that will help you to get your glutes more involved in the lift.

Step into it:

Use momentum to help you shovel. Step forward as you drive the shovel into the snow and as you toss the heavy snow onto your lawn.

Switch sides:

Alternating between left and right hand being the lead hand on the shovel will allow you to use the muscles in your back and shoulders in a more balanced way. This will help prevent you from getting as tired, and reduce the risk of muscle strains.

Don’t hold your breath:

It seems obvious, but people often hold their breath when doing strenuous tasks like shovelling snow. This is a strategy to create intra-abdominal pressure which helps keep the spine more stable against external stresses. However, holding your breath during physical exertion will also make you get tired more quickly, which again increases the risk of muscle strains. Not to mention that breath holding can also lead to dangerous spikes in blood pressure, which is one reason why snow shovelling can be especially dangerous in those that have a history of heart problems or high blood pressure.

Use an ergonomic shovel:

Shovels that have two handles (one at the top and one closer to the blade of the shovel) give you more leverage when lifting the snow to toss it, which is usually the part of the task where injuries are more likely to occur.

Warm up before you start:

This may be the hardest one for most people to follow through on, but it’s arguably the most effective way to reduce your risk of injuring your back. Warming up the low back, hip, and shoulder muscles, prior to shovelling can make a lot of difference. Doing 10-20 reps of squats, lunges (with each leg), toe touches, and trunk twists prior to shovelling snow will only take you a couple of minutes, but could save you a couple weeks of back pain.

Ask Santa for a snow blower!:

Though not an option for all. This is likely the snow removal option that will be the least likely to hurt one’s back.

If you can keep these tips in mind, and actually follow through on a few of them, it should help reduce your risk of hurting your back while shovelling the driveway. Now you just have to make sure you don’t hurt your back carrying all that coal you get for Christmas this year!