Tips To Avoid Back Pain When Shoveling Snow

How do you avoid back pain when you have to shovel snow?  

Last  night’s storm dumped a wintry mix on northwest New Jersey.  The paltry snowfall turned into a mix of sleet and rain.  As I cleared our driveway this morning, there wasn’t much accumulation, but it was sodden and heavy.

For skiers, the mix of snow, sleet and rain is a bust. For regular folks who have to clear driveways with a shovel instead of a plow or snowblower, it’s an invitation to potential back injury.  A Washington Post article details the heart attack risks of shoveling snow, however this post will focus on preventing back injury.

Insofar as back health is concerned, you’re lifting a heavy object far from your body, and moving it, often rotating your spine in the process.  The injury risk is compounded for those who aren’t generally physically active.


Combination of snow, sleet and rain makes for heavy snow, difficult to clear.

As Stuart McGill wrote, very few back injuries occur from a single event. (Mc Gill, Low Back Disorders, Human Kinetics, 2002)  Rather it’s repetitive patterns that lead to back pain and injuries.  

Here are some tips avoid back pain when you have to clear snow.  First, when snow has high moisture content, don’t be a hero and overload the shovel.  Take smaller bites, so to speak.  Keep your core musculature engaged – abdominal and oblique muscles – as you move the snow.


Don’t be as hero. This is way more snow than I picked up at any one time, for demonstration purposes only!

Secondly, try bracing your arm against your thigh as you pick up a shovelful of snow.  This distributes force to your legs and away from your back.  (ibid., p.142)


To reduce stress on my back, I’m bracing my arm against my leg when picking up snow.

To conclude: take small bites at a time.  Brace your arm or elbow against your leg.  Take frequent breaks.  Good luck, and be safe!