We’ve all been there (probably more than once this week). Standing in the middle of the driveway, shovel in hand and wondering how you’re going to clear away all that snow? But with sweat, determination and maybe a few tears, you get it done. But a few hours later, it hits…the back pain! The shoulder pain! And the nagging question of why you do this to yourself every snowfall? Well, there is light at the end of the tunnel and today I’m going to give you a few tips and tricks so you don’t let the shovel do it to you again!

WARM UP before shovelling. Walking around the house and incorporating arm movements for 5-10 minutes before shovelling will help the muscles warm up and prime them for the activity to come.

PACE YOURSELF when shovelling! Shovelling is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time and take frequent breaks. Shovelling requires a LOT of forward bending so taking breaks to stand up straight can help reduce some of the strain on the spine1.

On that note, take your time and LIFT SMALLER QUANTITIES of snow at a time, which reduces the pressure on your spine1. If the snow is deep, try shovelling in layers, starting with removing the top few inches and working your way down to the bottom.

Push snow (using power from your legs) instead of lifting it where you’re able to, but when you do have to lift, tighten your tummy muscles, keep your back “neutral” and

BEND AND LIFT WITH YOUR LEGS, NOT YOUR BACK!! Avoid twisting motions of the spine when throwing snow; instead, take steps to face the direction you want to throw the snow2.

PICKING THE RIGHT SHOVEL is also very important. Finding a shovel that is the “right height” means finding one that reduces the amount you have to bend forward. Shovels with adjustable handles are ideal if various family members may be using the shovel, but a stationary shovel that is an appropriate height for a single-user is also acceptable3.

Once back inside, right after shovelling, perform SUSTAINED STRETCHES for shoulder and back muscles (i.e. hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds). This will help prevent pain caused hours later by too much muscle tension.

Still feeling left out in the snow about which warm-ups, stretches or pain treatments are best? Call or email the clinic today to book an appointment with one of our knowledgeable practitioners.

By Jessica J. Talbot, Physiotherapist @ Richmond Hill Total Health


What levers does your body use? (2007). Retrieved from Science Learning Hub website: https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1924-what-levers-does-your-body-use

Mawston, G., & Boocock, M. (2012). The effect of lumbar posture on spinal loading and the function of the erector spinae: Implications for exercise and vocational rehabilitation. New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy, 40(3), 135-140.

Williams, R. (2015). How to choose the best snow shovel. Retrieved from The HeatTrak Homeowner's Blog & Resources website: http://blogs.heattrak.com/residential/how-to-choose-the-best-snow-shovel