Flurries of snow are bound to pay us New Englanders some frequent visits soon! To prepare for the storms ahead, local Physical Therapist and Back Pain Expert Dr. Carrie Jose of CJ Physical Therapy & Wellness, shares her top five tips for protecting your back when shoveling snow this winter:

Shovel early, and frequently!

Bundle up and shovel? Or snuggle up by the fire with a hot cup of cocoa? We might select the latter on a snow day, but as the hours pass and the snow gets wetter and heavier, we’re looking at longer shoveling times, and more stress on the spine. Try popping out multiple times per day, while the snow is lighter and fluffier, to get the job done in a shorter time period!

Use your legs!

If we’re rushing around to check “shoveling” off the list, the last thing we are probably thinking about is proper form. This is critical if you want to protect your back!

Our spines were designed to hold us upright, and give us the endurance to maintain good posture. They were not designed to lift heavy things. That’s what our glutes and legs are for! Save your spine by using the power of your legs to lift the snow—bend your knees, stick your rear out, and lift the snow with your whole body, instead of curving over from your spine. Your legs might be sore from the squatting, but your spine will thank you!

Don’t twist; pivot!

Now that you’ve lifted the snow, you have to throw it away. Use your whole body to pivot (not twist!) when you do this. When discarding the snow, many people simply twist their upper bodies, and rotate from their spines. Some try to use their arms to do it, which aggravates the neck. The combination of bending and rotating your spine at the same time—while trying to lift or move something—is what sends 90% of people with back pain to see me.

Pivot with your whole body to throw the snow away, by keeping the front of your hips facing the shovel the entire time. If your shovel and arms have gone to the left, and your hips are still pointing forward, you’re twisting instead of pivoting!

Breathe and use your core!

No matter what, make sure you’re breathing! This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people hold their breath when they go to lift or push something. When you breathe properly, your diaphragm pushes the air down and abdominals stretch, naturally recoiling back and allowing abdominals to contract and support your spine. When you hold your breath, the extra pressure that builds up from holding air inside your abdomen has to go somewhere. One of those places is your spine. Extra pressure can push on your discs and make them vulnerable, especially if you are bent forward. Make sure you’re always breathing, and exhale for better abdominal support when lifting the snow.

Make it easy on yourself!

If you are shoveling snow, make it as easy on yourself as possible!

Perhaps use an ergonomic shovel that helps decrease the repetitive strain on your body, or opt for a snow blower! With either option, much of the above advice still applies. 

If you’ve ever hurt your back shoveling snow, and want more information and tips like the ones above, visit Dr. Carrie’s website for a free copy of her back tips guide that she gives to patients at CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates, or call 603-380-7902!