January 21, 2018

Why does my back hurt after shoveling snow?

Why does my back hurt after shoveling snow?

What do I do when my back hurts after shoveling snow?

iStock_Man shovel snow‘Tis the wonderful holiday season…..not to mention the frigid cold temperatures, snow and ice that comes with it for us Northerners.  It’s that time of year to get the winter gear out of storage and get ready for the first snow.  Get your winter jacket, mittens, scarf and hat, oh….. not to forget the snow shovel.

Is your body in any condition to shovel snow or maybe you are like most people and the last time you did anything physical was last year when you shoveled snow?  Have you ever noticed after shoveling snow from the driveway your back feels sore or achy? Worse yet have you felt pain or pins & needles radiating down the back of your leg.  The other day, I looked out my window and saw the neighbor hunched over holding his back.  He appeared to be in agony, stuck forward in a bent over position.

When a person shovels snow, there is a combined movement pattern of forward bending coupled with twisting/rotation.  This combination of movements over a period of 20-30 minutes can play havoc on your back, especially if you already have a history of back pain.   During such an event, several anatomical structures may be involved such as muscle, ligament/tendon, joint, bone or the intervertebral disc.  Often the disc is subject to injury when stressed in such a way.  When a person bends forwards and then couples the movement with twisting/rotation, the orientation of the disc fibers becomes distorted and weakens.  The disc can become inflamed and swollen causing back pain and/or muscle spasms.  If severe enough it may cause pain and/or pins & needles to radiate down the leg.  The distorted disc tissue may also create a mechanical blocking effect where a person gets stuck forward and can’t stand back up straight without intense pain, just like my neighbor.

The solution….. be mindful of your posture.  Try to maintain your shovel moving forward.  When you scoop up the snow, pivot on your foot by turning your whole body to dump the snow.  Move in unison rather than separating your upper and lower body by twisting.  You should also consider alternating sides that you dump the snow, shovel down one direction to the left then come back going to the right.  Take frequent breaks and allow yourself to stretch your spine backwards by supporting your hands on your hips and leaning backwards.  This is a great way to counter-balance the spinal movements you just did by shoveling snow.  When you’re finished, its a good idea to go in the house and lay on the floor onto your stomach and prop up onto your forearms to stretch your spine backwards.  Maintain this position for a minute or two.

The next time you shovel snow, take this advice instead of walking back into your house and sitting on your rump as that may cause the disc tissue to swell even more!

S. White


  1. Lisa Lill says:

    Great article, was very useful since we just got nine inches of snow. Very nice website!

  2. Your article was very informative. Being of the senior generation and living in Colorado I’m the person responsible for shoveling the driveway and sidewalks around my home. That said, I end up with back sensitivities every season keeping the snow cleaned off. I intend to pay attention by watching and practicing the correct shoveling techniques you suggested in this article this season. I am looking forward to reading future articles on your site. Thanks!

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