Pain Free Shoveling

Shoveling Tips to Prevent Injury

Without fail, I get at least one SOS after a snow storm. It’s good for business but I’d really much prefer if everyone knew how to shovel safely.

Shoveling, whether it’s snow, dirt, or anything else you have to move from one place to another, is a common cause of back injury. But it can also be an excellent exercise that strengthens every major muscle group if you know how to do it correctly.

I personally love the workout shoveling can provide, and in this article, I’m going to show you how I warm up, shovel, and stretch afterwards so that you can love it as much as I do.

In This Post

Prepare the Body for Shoveling

Warm Up

Shoveling can be an aerobic exercise so it’s important to make sure that the muscles that need to be on are on, and the muscles that need to be long are lengthened. My Pain Free Shoveling video takes you through a very brief warm up which I recommend you do at a minimum.

If you have pre-existing back pain, I encourage you to prep your body better with videos like this or this. Following up with some abdominal work would be great too, because you want your core turned on and ready to support you as you shovel.

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Dress Appropriately

If you’ll be shoveling for a while, chances are you’re going to build up a good sweat, so dress in layers. I often start shoveling snow with every winter garment I’ve got, and by the end of it I’ve stripped down to my long underwear. Point is, start warm but don’t overheat.

Stay Hydrated

Did I mention shoveling is aerobic? Hydrate before, during, and after just like you would at the gym (because you’re good about that, right?…Right?).

If it’s snow you’re shoveling, I highly recommend you drink my Ridiculously Nourishing Elixir. It’s precisely what you need for winter, and it will keep you warm from the inside. Know that we tend to feel less thirsty in the cold, but dehydration impairs our body’s ability to regulate heat…which is not good for us when we’re cold. So please just drink already.

Start Slow and Light

It is wise to begin any activity slowly until the muscles are warm and the body has organized itself around the activity.

It is also VERY IMPORTANT to begin with a light load to avoid throwing your back out. Think about it – if you went to lift weights for the first time in ages would you go for the big boys or would you start smaller and build your way up? (Actually, some of you – don’t answer that;))

Find the right load size for you, which is a load you can happily do, without strain, until the job is done. I know you think you’re saving time by piling a lot on your shovel at once, but have you really if the next day you’re immobilized from back pain?

Follow Good Shoveling Techniques to Avoid Hurting Your Back

Watch this video for proper technique:

For those of you who box, golf, play tennis, or do any other exercise that requires rotation of the shoulders, you’ll immediately recognize the correct action.

The main takeaways are that you are:
-keeping the spine straight
-rotating from the hips, not the lower spine
-rotating the shoulders, not just the arms

Do Some Appropriate Exercises After Shoveling

It’s smart to stretch and cool down after exercise, and that applies to shoveling too. This will look different for everyone depending on how much you shoveled and what your fitness level is. But please do something to thank your body for that awesome job it just did.

If your back is even remotely complaining after your shovel session, I offer these two routines to you. They happen to be my go-to routines anytime my back is cranky and they always set me straight:

Stabilize Your Sacrum
Legs Up the Wall Sequence

Relieve Low Back Strain After Shoveling Snow

Sometimes the low back can be in pain after shoveling despite all your excellent efforts to avoid it. Here are some tips to relieve your low back pain:

Rest in moderation

Resting for a while, especially on the first day, can help calm sore muscles. It will also keep you from making unnecessary or sudden movements which will further aggravate the problem. The routines above are gentle and restful enough for most to do even with mild low back pain.

Resting too long – several hours or more – can be counter-productive because it can make the back stiffen.

DO NOT REST IN AN UPRIGHT SEATED POSITION. Instead, sit on an incline (think lazy-boy) or lie down. Placing pillows under your knees can further help alleviate the pain in your low back.

Alternate Cold and Heat Therapy

Grab an icepack or bag of frozen veggies from your freezer, wrap it in a towel and rest on it. This will reduce the immediate inflammation and give you quick pain relief.

After that move to heat therapy which will relax the muscles and improve blood flow. Heat therapy can be a warm bath (with Epsom salts if you’ve got them!), a hot water bottle, a heating pad, and even a topical cream like Tiger Balm.

Know When to See a Doctor

Of course, if you ever experience severe pain, loss of control of groin, bladder, or leg – get yourself to a doctor immediately!

If your back pain persists or gets worse over time despite your self-care, see a doctor.

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