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Snow Shoveling Basics

When it comes to removing snow, many people shovel and plow the wrong way. The result is a seasonal increase in back strain. Snow removal is a very strenuous activity which is hard to avoid in the Midwest. The questions remain; how do I get this snow off my driveway without killing my back?, do I shovel or use the snow blower?, should I even try to do it at all? Let’s review some tips so you can get rid of that snow with confidence.

The Basics

• Push. Don’t lift. Push the snow when you can, as opposed to lifting. Pushing is less straining on the back when done correctly.
• Take breaks and stretch.
• Even if you bend correctly (at the hips) you should take breaks every 5 minutes to stretch in the opposite direction by standing up straight for a few seconds. You should also take a few minutes before and after shoveling to stretch. Remember to stay hydrated, dehydration can happen just as quickly in the winter as the summer!
• Don’t bend and twist. Bending and twisting are very strenuous for the back. Try to move in the direction that you are shoveling.
• Don’t force it. Take breaks if you feel pain, or moderate muscle fatigue. Muscle fatigue can change your body mechanics and make even the most ergonomic of people use their backs to lift. Listen to your body. This also applies to snow blowers. Don’t force the machine, work with it. Snow blowing can be just as taxing on your back as snow shoveling. As with any activity, if you feel any shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, or severe muscle pain you should stop and seek medical attention.
• Pick a shovel that is lightweight. This will decrease the amount of snow you can pick up, thus decreasing the strain on your back.
• Pick an ergonomic shovel, one with a bent neck. This will increase your ability to stand straighter while shoveling.
• Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and keep the shovel close to your body. If you have to lift the shovel, lift with your legs, not your back and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Keep your knees bent and avoid twisting movements. If you need to move the snow to one side, pivot on your feet, don’t twist.
• Don’t throw the snow over your shoulder, this twisting motion is very straining to your neck and back muscles.
• Try to shovel snow as it falls, not all at once. Snow becomes more compacted after it sits and becomes harder to remove. If you have to remove very deep snow, try to shave an inch or two off the top, take a break and then finish the task. • Dress the part: warm clothing in layers and remove layers as you need to.

Snowflake on GroundSnow Blowers

Snow blowers are very helpful, especially for removing larger amounts of snow. As with all tools, if used incorrectly they can strain your back.
• Work at the speed of the snow blower, don’t push it along.
• Keep the snow blower close to your body when pushing and turning.
• Keep your knees slightly bent when walking with the snow blower.

Choosing a snow blower…

• Not everyone has the ability to operate a snow blower. Consult with your physician or therapist before attempting to use one.
• Single-stage blower: light, easier to maneuver, not the best for removing larger amounts of snow, good for small areas.
• Two-stage blower: heavier, not as maneuverable, good at removing large amounts of snow or for larger areas.


Unfortunately, snow removal is something that has to be done if you live in the Midwest. Increasing your awareness of proper body mechanics can help to avoid the post-shoveling back pain blues. If you have specific questions about shoveling, ask your therapist or consult your physician.