How to Shovel Snow (without Killing Your Back and Knees)

Shoveling snow can be figurative pain in the neck, but it also can be a literal pain in the back and knees if you’re doing it wrong. And if you feel like you were just slammed by a Mack truck after clearing off your sidewalk or driveway, chances are you’re doing it wrong. With the dumpings of Storm Janus smothering the New York region, there may be upwards of 8 million people doing it wrong.

Doing It Wrong

The back curved & twisted Hips not bent Knee is too straight

The back curved & twisted
Hips not bent
Knee is too straight

One of the most common yet incorrect ways to shovel snow involves putting all the pressure of the task on your back. Many folks shovel with their back rounded, bending and twisting at the spine. They often leave the hips in a passive position and keep their forward knee straight. All pressure and stress is placed directly on the spine, specifically on the weak set of now-disengaged muscles that usually protect and support your spine. The muscles tire easily and were not designed to handle the weight of the world, or even all that snow. Ready for back pain yet?

Another method, which happened to be mentioned by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, is to “get low” and lift with “your knees, not your back.” While that method may save your back some agony, it’s simply transferring the pressure to another area not designed to handle it: your knee joints. Say hello to knee pain and even eventual arthritis.

Doing It Right

Proper body mechanics for shoveling snow, or any type of bending, dictate you bend at the hip using what is called the hip hinge method. Rather than curving the spine, keep your back straight, hinge forward at your hip, and bend your front knee. The weight of the snow is now distributed to bodily areas actually designed to handle it.

Muscles in your legs, arms, shoulders and hips are designed to create force and go through a range of motion that results in movement. Muscles in your spine, torso and core are not; they are actually designed to stop movement. Putting the weight of all that snow on the bodily areas designed to handle it is the way to shovel yourself out of a future full of injury and pain.

While the proper snow shoveling method may not have the backing of de Blasio, it is backed by biomechanical techniques suggested by University of Waterloo kinesiology professor Stuart McGill as well as Foundation Training creator Dr. Eric Goodman. Foundation Training aims to move the body in the manner in which it was designed to move, and hip hinging is one of those designs.

SOURCES:

  1. Katz, C. Mayor de Blasio Dispenses Storm Hercules Update… And Safe Snow Shovelling Tips.New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2014/01/mayor-de-blasio-dispenses-storm-hercules-update-and-safe-snow-shovelling-tips. Accessed Jan. 22, 2014.
  2. Foundation Training. Available at: http://foundationtraining.com/. Accessed Jan. 22, 2014.
  3. McGill, S. Waterloo’s Dr. Spine, Stuart McGill. Published on YouTube; Oct. 27, 2011.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=033ogPH6NNE. Accessed Jan. 22, 2014.