Ready for the Blizzard? Don’t Pull Out Your Back Shoveling!

Winter is officially back again!  As New Englanders, we know that winter brings mornings spent clearing off the driveway, front steps, and decks.  It is full of Monday morning snowstorms and plow truck drivers who plow in the end of your driveway just after you spent an hour cleaning it up.

If you are one of the lucky few, who have their driveways plowed over the winter, you have my permission to stop reading this article right now.  However, if you are gearing up to take the snow blower out of the shed or get the shovels into the garage, please read on.

Every year, I see at least 5-10 people for acute low back spasms after a day of shoveling their driveways.  They come in with roughly the same story.  “I was out shoveling the snow in my yard a few weeks ago.  As I bent over to pick up a heavy much of wet snow, I felt a pop in my back.  It wasn’t so bad in the moment, so I finished shoveling the driveway.  When I got back in the house it started to stiffen up.  After a few hours, I was barely able to move.  Now I can barely sit, or stand up without excruciating pain in my back.”

This story touches a cord with many of us.  What most people don’t realize is that episodic injury to your back can be prevented and is not something that you just need to accept.  The research has found that if you participate consistently in functional core stabilization exercises, patient are less likely to have acute flare ups.  The frequency and the duration of flare ups have been found to decrease after the performance of consistent exercise.

In most cases, people injure their backs when doing activities that are more challenging than their muscles are used to performing on a daily basis.  Simply put, if you don’t lift 30 pounds consistently to keep your muscles in shape, you are putting your spine at risk every time you lift something 30 pounds (ex: when lifting your luggage up into the overhead bins of a plane).

I recommend that patients do standing exercises that mimic lifting activities at the gym with weight.  This trains the body to be ready for heavy lifting tasks for when you actually need to lift something heavy in real life and will decrease your risk of injury. Pick the amount of weight that you will work up to based on the heaviness of the things that you need to lift in life.  (I have worked up to lifting between 15 and 20 pounds consistently at the gym because the heaviest thing that I need to lift in my life is the kitty litter box!)

Below you will find a few of my favorite exercises to get people ready for the tough winter of shoveling and lifting ahead!  Make sure to start with light weights first and then slowly work up to the weight that you would eventually like to be able to control.  Remember that your back must stay straight and abdominals tight throughout the entire exercise.  Also make sure to work on improving your endurance if you want to get ready for shoveling.  You have to lift that shovel a lot of times to finish the whole driveway!  But after doing these exercises consistently over the next few months…..shoveling your driveway will be easy as pie!

Exercises for Shoveling

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Diana grew up in a small suburb north of Boston. She received her clinical doctorate degree in Physical Therapy at Boston University in 2006. Diana started practicing as a physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital. While at MGH, she developed a specialty in the evaluation and treatment of complex lumbopelvic dysfunction. Diana is currently practicing at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston where she is the Orthopedic Clinical Supervisor of the Spine program. She is presently a Boston resident and her interests outside physical therapy include cooking, walking on the Esplanade, and international travel.

One Response to “Ready for the Blizzard? Don’t Pull Out Your Back Shoveling!”

  1. […] shoveling out from under two feet of snow isn’t enough of a workout for you, try this bodyweight combination […]