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In New England, snow removal is an unavoidable reality for many. It is important to take great care when shoveling to avoid injury.

There are two main ways to prepare:

  1. Practice Proper shoveling mechanics
  2. Have the proper shovel

Both of these approaches will help to reduce the compression and shear forces on the spine. A compressive force compacts the vertebra and the disc vertically. Whereas, a shear force is when one vertebra puts pressure horizontally on the vertebra beneath it.

Practice Proper Shoveling Mechanics

When the person is shoveling and bending to put the shovel on the ground both compressive and shear forces increase pressure on the spine. The repetitive nature of the movement and the weight of the snow puts the shoveler at increased risk of injury. Instead, the shoveler should have their body square to the shovel while facing the snow they are about to lift. Do not bend forward. Alternatively keep your chest up, squat and lift with your legs to pick up the snow. When emptying the shovel it is important to turn your whole body to face the new direction, to avoid twisting the spine. Keeping your back straight when you are shoveling allows the muscles of your back to protect your spine from shear and compressive forces. To decrease the load being lifted, keep the shovel close to your body. This shortens the lever arm by maintaining the snow close to your center of mass. When possible it is best to push snow rather than lift it.

The picture above is an example of what not to do. Here the snow is being thrown aside in a twisting motion. In place of this the person should always have their hips facing the shovel and then they should be able to walk it over to where it will be dumped.

The picture above is an example of what to do. The bottom edge of the shovel is on the ground with the shoveler’s knees bent and minimal bending of the back.

Have the Proper Shovel

The shovel should fit the worker and should also have a bent shaft. Both of these requirements will decrease the compressive and shear forces on the spine. Before purchasing a shovel, test it out. Hold the shovel with the bottom edge on the ground. It should be long enough so that the shoveler only has to slightly bend their knees but not their back to keep the bottom edge of the shovel on the ground. The use of a bent shaft shovel significantly reduces the amount the shoveler must bend their back with each lift. This, therefore, reduces the chance of injury.

It does not matter how old you are, how strong you are or even how much snow has fallen. If you are shoveling incorrectly with the wrong shovel you are at risk of injuring yourself. An injury of this type results in pain that could limit your function going forward. Shoveling is hard enough you should not have to wake up the next morning feeling it.

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McGill, S. (2007). Low back disorders: Evidence-based prevention and rehabilitation: 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Jacobs, K. (2008). Ergonomics for therapists(3rd ed.). Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Mosby.
image from : Top 4 Reasons for Back Pain while Running | Which do you have? (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2019, from