Believe it or not, one of the most common reasons people injure their lower back and experience pain is due to the fact that they have undertaken snow shoveling improperly. And when not taken seriously and treated at the time it occurs, the problems—and the pain—can last for a quite a while.

So commonplace are back injuries resulting from this specific activity that doctors, physical therapists and other health professionals have actually compiled guidelines on how to avoid injuring your lower back and therefore, avoiding the pain that comes with such an injury.

  • To begin, invest in an ergonomic shovel, meaning one that is specially shaped and places the least amount of the stress on the back as possible. Make sure the handle is appropriate for your height and arm length—you can tell by how much you need to bend over when shoveling. The less bending, the less likely you’ll injure your back. And try to pick a lightweight plastic model.
  • As with any physical activity, you’ll want to warm up your muscles and do a bit of stretching beforehand. Remember that in cold weather muscles—especially those in the back—tend to get stiff more quickly, so do some light stretching before you head outside. And if you haven’t been exercising regular (i.e. you’re “out of shape”) shovel slowly and take breaks to avoid injuries.
  • If you can push the snow out of the way rather than lift it up, do so—this is much easier on your back. If lifting is necessary, square off your shoulders with the snow you’re lifting and bend at the hips and knees rather than at the back. Place as much of the stress as possible on your leg muscles (especially your thigh muscles or quadriceps) and minimize any twisting motions.
  • It may be tempting to load up your shovel with large amounts of snow in order to get the chore over with quickly, but doing so can be detrimental to your back. So with deeper snow remove the top layer first, then work your way down. Lighter loads mean less wear and tear on your back muscles.