How to Snow Shovel Safely

by | Jan 13, 2023 | Pain & Performance

Winter can be a wonderful time of the year. Families come together for the holidays, outdoor recreation shifts focus, and a blanket of beautiful snow descends on the Earth. While there is plenty to love about the cold season, it comes with its own set of challenges.

Aside from driving on slippery surfaces, keeping driveways and walkways clear of snow ranks among the least positive parts of winter. Almost no one enjoys breaking out the snow shovel and embracing hard physical labor in the bitter cold.

Snow Shovel Injuries

More than a frustrating byproduct of the winter months, shoveling snow can be dangerous. Thousands of Americans go to the hospital each year with snow shoveling injuries. From painful cuts to broken bones to joint problems, the dangers of snow shoveling are real.

Back injuries are the most common complaint among injured snow shovelers. Whether it’s a new injury or the aggravation of preexisting pain, snow shoveling can have a devasting effect on your back. That’s why it’s crucial to use proper form.

How to Avoid Back Pain When Snow Shoveling

Shoveling snow might be a necessary evil in the winter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to mitigate risk. Practicing proper form can help prevent back injuries when snow shoveling, as well as limit the possibility of other problems, such as shoulder pain. 

Warm Up

One of the worst things you can do when snow shoveling is jump right into manual labor. When your muscles are tight and cold, they are more prone to injury. Before you start shoveling, take a few minutes to stretch your back and legs. You may also want to do some light warmup exercises, such as jumping jacks, to further prepare your muscles and your cardiovascular system.


Dehydration has been linked to muscular injury, as well as decreasing your body’s natural ability to maintain its correct temperature. These two risk factors can contribute to snow shoveling injuries and back pain if not addressed. Be sure to drink plenty of water even if you don’t feel thirsty.

Dress Appropriately

Dressing for strenuous activity in the winter can feel like a balancing act. You want to be warm, thereby stimulating blood flow and keeping muscles warm. However, you also want to be able to move unrestricted. Utilize layers that are warm but loose. This will give you the best of both worlds as you eradicate snow from your walkway.

Additionally, choose the right footwear. Shoes should have excellent tread, otherwise, you risk slipping and injuring yourself.

Take it Slow

If snow has accumulated or is continuing to fall, don’t feel as though you have to shovel all of it in one session. Overexerting yourself increases the risk of injury dramatically, so it is far better to take breaks and tackle the job in multiple attempts than all at once. Stretching your snow shoveling over the course of a day or the weekend can save your body from the very real possibility of injury.

Use the Right Snow Shoveling Form

There are a few key things to remember when actively shoveling snow that can protect your back and joints from injury and pain. Consider creating a mental checklist to help you focus on these crucial elements of snow shoveling form. With enough practice, they will become second nature.

  • Maintaining a straight back encourages your legs to engage rather than your lower back. Think about keeping your chest up and forward, lifting with your legs, and leading with your hips.
  • Do not twist your spine when unloading your shovel. Instead, rotate your entire body in the direction you want to deposit the snow.
  • Focus on using your legs, not your arms. Over-reliance on your arms can lead to joint injuries and fatigue. Extending them away from your body can increase the risk of lower back injuries.
  • Using proper hand placement on the shovel by placing one on the handle and the other a comfortable distance apart on the shaft of the shovel. This places you in an advantageous position.

Snow shoveling is a physically demanding task that can lead to injuries and back pain. By following the steps above—and investing in an ergonomic snow shovel that is sized appropriately for you—you can reduce the possibility of injury this winter.

For more tips, including how to snow shovel with back pain, be sure to speak to your doctor. They can provide you with more insights, including those specific to your health.

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