Avoid Back Pain with Smarter Shoveling

Snow shoveling sends thousands of people to the ER each year – many times due to back injuries. A chiropractor explains how to shovel to avoid hurting your back.

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CLEVELAND – When a winter storm bears down and dumps large amounts of snow all at once, sometimes our only option is to shovel our way out of our homes.

But if we’re not careful, snow shoveling can be harmful to our backs.

In fact, research shows thousands of people end up in emergency departments each year after snow shoveling – and many of those visits are for back injuries.

The repetition of lifting too much and twisting too far often wreaks havoc on the lower back.

But according to Cleveland Clinic’s Andrew Bang, D.C., many low back injuries can be avoided with a few simple tweaks to our form.

“You can make sure your stance is a little wider than normal and then you can also make sure you’re bending your knees quite a bit, and the last step is to actually tilt your hips forward, flattening your back,” said Dr. Bang.  “Doing these three things takes the most stress off your lower back.” 

Dr. Bang said shoveling often involves a dangerous combination of heavy lifting, twisting and throwing snow.

He said twisting puts strain on the discs in the lower back and can lead to disc herniation and rupture, so it’s a good idea to avoid twisting when shoveling.

He added that doing any activity repetitively over time can lead to muscle fatigue, discomfort, and even damage to muscles and ligaments – so it’s best to break up activities like shoveling.

He suggested switching between a few minutes of lifting and throwing snow, and a few minutes of pushing or plowing snow.

When it comes to the weight of the snow, Dr. Bang said lifting less than eight pounds of snow is low to no risk.

However, as folks lift up towards 50 pounds of snow, risk for back injury increases, so it’s important to lift within a safe range. 

“If you keep that range in that 10-15 pounds of weight, you’re going to be in a low risk category to avoid a major injury from shoveling snow,” said Dr. Bang. 

Before heading outdoors, Dr. Bang said a few minutes of simple exercises or stretches like toe touches, or lumbar twists will warm up the lower back and help to avoid potential injury.

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