BENNETT: Six snow shovelling tips to prevent low back injury

By on December 7, 2017
Kin Corner is a monthly feature on movement, exercise and rehabilitation written by a Katrina Bennett, a registered kinesiologist.


by Katrina Bennett

According to a seventeen year study conducted by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, the lower back was the most common musculoskeletal injury sustained when shoveling snow. We have a responsibility to keep our driveways and sidewalks clear but how can we protect our low back at the same time?

In November of 1995 I was a victim of a serious car accident. I broke my back in three places and had to undergo two major back surgeries. I was already working on my Kinesiology degree and this gave me first-hand experience with injury rehabilitation. I also learned the value of simple exercises and stretches in the recovery process. Of course prevention is preferable to rehabilitation whenever possible.

Shovelling snow in the winter is a good way to burn some calories — but also a common way to cause a low back injury. (Photo contributed).

Before you begin make sure you are approved by your medical doctor to shovel snow — especially if you have a cardiac condition or a sedentary lifestyle. Engaging in strenuous physical activity without the proper preparation and training are risk factors for injury.

The first step is to use the right equipment for the job. You’ll need a sturdy pair of non-slip boots, warm clothing and a good shovel. The shovel should come up to the height of your chest and be lightweight.

The second step is to warm up your muscles properly before you begin. You can march in place for several minutes before you head outside or you can take a 10- minute walk around the neighbourhood to get your muscles moving.

Third, use the right ergonomic position while shoveling. Avoid all twisting of the back by keeping it straight. Use your arms and your legs to do the work. If possible push the snow without lifting it.

If you do decide to lift the snow — push the shovel straight and then toss the snow straight forward (no twisting in the back or throwing snow over your shoulder). You can say this to yourself “shovel — forward, shovel — forward…”. In the long run it’s better to take a few more minutes to shovel than end up injured and in pain for weeks to follow.

The fourth step is to avoid a slouched position — on the couch for example — as you cool down. Walk around for a few minutes afterward or rest in a position where your back is straight (in good posture) as you cool down.

The final two steps are snow shoveling preventative exercises and stretches. Do these several times per week before you plan to go shovel for best results. They should always be done within a pain-free range of motion and if you ever feel sharp pain this is a red flag to stop and seek professional medical advice.

Step Five: Superman/Superwoman

This exercise is also called the opposite arm and leg raise. The purpose is to strengthen the back.

(Photo contributed).

Start on your stomach raising your right arm and your left leg a few inches off the ground for three to ten seconds. Then switch to raise your left arm and your right leg. Be sure to breathe the entire time (don’t hold your breathe). Repeat this process for three to five repetitions or until fatigued.

(Photo contributed).

In advanced version of this exercise you will start on your hands and knees. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are directly under your hips and then follow the same prescription as above by raising your right arm and your leg up — until they are in line with your torso — and holding for three to ten seconds and then repeating on the other side.

Step Six: Low Back Stretch

(Photo contributed).

Lay on your back, bend your knees and pull your legs up towards your chest. You may need to separate your knees to get a better stretch — this is okay. Hold this position for twenty to thirty seconds and repeat. Remember to relax and breathe throughout the stretch.


Katrina Bennett has been a practicing member of the British Columbia Association of Kinesiologists (BCAK) since 2002. If you suffer from muscle pain, struggle with weight management or wish you were more fit and healthy please visit: or call/text: (604) 832-2207. Nicola Valley Kinesiology sessions are held: Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:30am, 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. by appointment.

One Comment

  1. Bessie

    December 30, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you Katrinia for a very well written and explanatory article. I think many of us (me for sure) forget about the importance of stretching and muscle warm up before exercising or snow shoveling. Happy New Years!

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