Prevent Back Pain with Tips for Shoveling Snow Correctly

This morning, I woke up to the news that it’s a Snow Day!  That’s the fourth one we’ve had already this winter.  Kids are cheering all over town 🙂

This snow may be fun for the kids, and it’s beautiful to look at, but it can wreak havoc on the backs of people who are shoveling their driveways and walkways.  A shovelful of snow weighs 5-7 pounds, which means that people can be lifting several hundred pounds as they clear their driveways or sidewalks on a snowy day like today.

The Ontario Chiropractic Association does a public education media campaign every year at this time to remind people to take care of their backs as they are out shoveling snow.  It’s called ‘Lift Light, Shovel Right‘.

Here are some tips to keep you safe while shoveling:

1) Warm Up: Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity and before you begin, you should take the time to warm up with a 5 to 10 minute walk (even on the spot) and you should do some simple stretching.

This is very important to avoid injury to your muscles and joints (especially those in your back) but it is also extremely relevant to those who may have cardiovascular concerns. Typical winter conditions like what I see outside my window today can cause death rates from heart attacks to triple among men 35 to 49 years old.  This is why it would be a good idea to avoid snow shoveling if you have any diagnosed cardiovascular issues. (Please talk to your health care provider if you are not sure if you should be shoveling)

So, instead of thinking about snow shoveling as just a necessary household chore, it is smart to to consider it a strenuous athletic endeavor.  So just like any athlete would warm up before doing their sport, you need to warm up before you head out to clear your drive.

2) Pick the Right Shovel: Use a light weight push type shovel.  It is smart to use a shovel with a smaller blade, so you are lifting less snow with each shovelful.  You may also want to use an ergonomically friendly snow shovel with a curvy handle that will allow more of the strain to be taken on by the shovel and less of the strain to be put through your back.

Ergonomic Snow Shovel

3) Don’t Let the Snow Pile Up: If it is snowing all day or for several days in a row, it is a good idea to go out often and clear the snow.  Frequent shoveling will allow you to move smaller amounts of snow which will protect your muscles and joints.

4) Push Don’t Throw: Instead of throwing the snow, always push the snow to the sides of your driveway or walkway.  This way you can avoid lifting heavy shovelfuls of snow and you can avoid sudden twisting and turning movements that may contribute to an injury to your back.

Push the snow, don't throw it.

5) Bend Your Knees: If you do have to lift a shovelful of snow, make sure to place your feet in a wide stance for more stability and bend your knees and use the strength of your legs and arms to lift instead of your back.

Wide Stance, Bend your Knees

6) Take a Break: It’s a good idea to take a break every 15 minutes to rest your muscles and joints and to allow your heart rate to return to normal.  It’s also a good idea to get a drink of water to rehydrate.  Remember, you are doing a strenuous physical activity. Even hardcore athletes take a time out to have a little rest and take a drink.

If you feel tired or short of breath, stop and take a rest.  If you feel chest pain or back pain, you should stop shoveling immediately.  If you have back pain that is severe or that is still bothering you for more than a day after shoveling, see a chiropractor.  If you have chest pain that is severe, get help immediately.

Shoveling snow is one of those necessary evils of living in a winter wonderland!  Make sure that you have fun in the snow, drive safe and remember to Lift Light and Shovel Right!  For more information on the OCA’s media campaign check out

Happy Snow Day!


Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.

A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.

Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.