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The Ultimate Back Pain Relief Tips Blog

Back Pain Chicago & Shoveling Snow on WCIU's You & Me This Morning

Posted by Dr. Jeff Winternheimer D.C. on Fri, Jan 03, 2014 @ 01:53 PM

Dr. Jeff joins Jeanne Sparrow on WCIU’s You and Me This Morning to discuss what you can do to avoid back pain while shoveling snow this winter. Chicago has encountered a lot of snow already and there is more to come. Let’s face it…shoveling snow is hard work! And if not done correctly, it can put severe strain on the back.

It’s very important for people to be careful when shoveling snow. While most people recognize the tremendous stress that shoveling snow can place on the heart, what they may not realize is the amount of stress and strain that it can cause to the back. It’s not surprising that thousands of people injure their backs each and every year while shoveling snow. During the winter season, people suffer from everything from basic muscle fatigue and low back strain to vertebral disc damage and even spinal fractures. But, with proper preparation and a few easy tips, shoveling snow can be a very healthy, fun, and safe form of winter exercise.

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In the clip above Dr. Jeff addresses some tips to help you avoid back pain while shoveling. Below are some more tips that will be helpful as well. Be safe Chicago!


  • Dress Appropriately!
    • Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the weather with layered clothing that is non-restricting and easy to move in.
    • Consider wearing a hat. A great deal of body heat is lost through the head, so a hat is a must.
    • If it’s icy cold, breathing through a scarf will help.
    • It’s important to wear proper boots, which are not only essential for keeping your feet warm and dry, but the soles provide good traction, which will help with your balance.
    • Not only do you need to wear gloves to keep your hands warm, but also gloves with vinyl or leather on the palms and fingers will help you form a tighter grip on the shovel’s handle so it doesn’t slip. Thick gloves will also help protect your hands from calluses and blisters while shoveling.
  • Warm Up!
    • Like any exercise, it’s important to warm up. Before digging into the snow, try a few jumping jacks. Or, take a few minutes to jog or march in place to get the blood flowing and the muscles warm. As we all know, warm relaxed muscles work much more efficiently than cold tight ones; and are less likely to be injured.
  • Purchase the right shovel!
    • Using the right shovel can save your back from injury or pain. Be sure that your shovel is lightweight and has a curved handle (like the new ergonomic ones), which allows you to keep your back straighter when shoveling. Also, make sure that it’s not too tall (resulting in an awkward grip) or too small (causing you to bend over). I believe that a smaller blade is better than a larger blade. Although a small blade can't shovel as much snow, it avoids the risk of trying to pick up too heavy a load with a larger one.
  • Make sure to take breaks!
    • When shoveling, you need to take frequent breaks and pace yourself. Stand up straight, stretch your back and roll your shoulders a few times to release the tension. Pace yourself. There’s no need to shovel the entire driveway and sidewalk at one time.
  • Stay hydrated!
    • Be sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after shoveling snow. Like jogging, riding a bike, or a work-out in the gym, snow shoveling is exercise, so staying hydrated is important. Avoid caffeinated drinks, as they cause dehydration, which will make you more likely to experience aches, pains and other discomfort after shoveling.
  • Use your legs NOT your back!
    • When shoveling, make sure you are lowering yourself with your legs and not bending forward toward the snow with your back. Doing so will help avoid added pressure on your spine.
  • Switch sides when shoveling!
    • Any repetitive motion for a long period of time is sure to cause soreness. To lessen the chance of experiencing back pain while shoveling, alternate between tossing the snow to your right and tossing it to your left. Also, try changing hand grips so that if the shovel is to your right, leading with the left arm; change it to the left side, leading with your right arm.
  • Make sure you are gripping the shovel correctly!
    • Speaking of grip, don’t place your hands too close to one another. Create some distance between your hands (about 12 inches or so), which gives you more leverage and makes it easier to lift the snow.
  • Lift correctly!
    • Whenever possible remember to push the snow instead of lifting it. Pushing puts far less strain on the spine than lifting. But, if you must lift, protect your back from injury by doing so correctly. Begin by standing with your feet about hip width for balance and keeping the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow, avoiding any twisting movements.
  • Toss correctly!
    • Once you have picked up the snow, turn your whole body and face the direction you want to toss the snow. By doing so, you are tossing the snow in a straight forward way, completely taking out the torso rotation and saving your back. NEVER twist to throw the snow to the side, and never throw it over your shoulder! It’s very important to walk to where you want to dump the snow. Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much pressure on the spine.
  • Listen to your body!
    • Stop IMMEDIATELY when you feel any sort of pain or shortness of breath. With snow shoveling, especially, you’ve got to listen to your body and know your limitations.
  • Take a warm shower!
    • When you’re done shoveling, take a hot shower and stretch while under the hot water. Doing so will help relax the muscles and it will lessen the chance of any aches and pains later on.
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Topics: snow shoveling back pain, general back pain, lower back pain, Back Pain, Common Causes of Back Pain, lower back pain relief, back pain chicago, back specialist chicago