DRAFT Clearing Snow.

We felt that it is relevant to offer our patients some ergonomic advice regarding shovelling snow, as although people over-straining their backs shovelling snow is good for our business we would rather you didn’t.

The Problem.

  • The biomechanics of using a shovel, regardless of what you are shovelling, is quite challenging at the best of times, as it requires you to bend, twist and lift. It is this combination of mechanical forces that places your low back in a very vulnerable position.
  • The most common issue is an over-use injury of the muscles in your lower lumbar spine. These muscles will quickly fatigue if you use poor technique, particularly if you don’t normally exercise them.
  • As with any other exercise, it’s frequently at some point after the event that you will become aware of the fact that you have ‘over-done’ it.

The Preparation.

  • As with any other physical activity you should prepare yourself. Some gently stretches and warming up exercises of your low back and legs will help to prepare them for activity.
  • Muscles prefer to be warm, and react by contracting when they are cold. So ensure that your clothing covers your low back when you are bending forward, ( Although a builder’s bum may be attractive, it leaves your low back vulnerable.)

The Shovel.

  • The design of your snow shovel can make a significant difference to the effort that is required in snow shovelling.  There are shovels which are better ergonomically designed and help to reduce the mechanical strain.
  • The handle length is important, Ideally you are aiming for a length where you are only slightly bent forward.
  • The blade of the shovel should be light plastic, therefore, you are not having to lift the combined weight of a heavy shovel and the snow.

The Technique.

  • The way in which you use your body will have a significant effect upon the amount of energy you have to exert, which in turn will dictate haw rapidly your muscles fatigue.
  • Be careful to load your shovel with an appropriate amount of snow, as clearly the heavier the weight the more effort your back muscles will have to work to lift it. If it’s deep snow take the top portion first, then dig deeper.
  • If there are any portions which are icy or compacted snow apply grit or salt first, and allow time for it to break the ice up, rather than running the risk of jarring your back trying to chip away at it.
  • The strain of lifting a weight becomes more significant the further it is away from your body, and so always try to keep the heaviest part an object as close to your centre of gravity as you can. Have one hand close to the blade of the shovel and try not to over-reach when you throw the snow.
  • If you vary your technique the mechanical strain will be more widely shared through the muscles of your low back. If you are obliged to throw the snow to one particular side consider turning around after a while and reversing the direction or rototation.
  • Use your legs and save your back. As with lifting any object, keep a straight back and lift with your legs.
  • Take regular breaks. Use the time to gently stretch, and keep warm. If you are clearing a large area consider doing it in stages and possibly over a few days.

The Symptoms.


  • Muscular fatigue.     Initially, muscle strain results in an ache in the lumbar spine and an associated localised stiffness. Often this becomes worse with prolonged periods of immobility, particularly with sitting, and so it can be difficult getting going if you’ve been sat for a while. If it is purely muscular tension then the ache normally responds well to warmth, a warm shower or a wheat bag.
  • Inflamation.             When muscles have been overstrained it is possible that the tendons have become inflamed. The quality of the pain will be sharp and localised with movement, superimposed upon the lower-grade muscular ache and stiffness.
  • Symptoms that are of concern include pain, numbness or muscle weakness in your legs, changes in your bladder or bowel habit, or numbness around your groin or bottom. In the event that you experience any of these you must contact your GP immediately.

The Treatment.


  • If it is purely muscular tension then the ache normally responds well to warmth, such as a warm shower or a wheat bag.


  • Be careful with applying heat to an area that is inflamed or taking a hot bath, as although it may feel good whilst you are lying there if there’s any degree of inflammation it will be irritated by the heat and you may find it difficult to get out !
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen, a cold pack or a cold gel such as Biofreeze can help to reduce the degree of inflammation and the intensity of the pain.
  • ‘Active Rest’ is the best way to manage acute pain, and describes the combination of giving the muscles of your spine time to relax, whilst ensuring that you maintain your mobility and strength.
  • Commonly, the most comfortable position involves you lying on your back with your knees. Whilst lying there you should gently let your knees rock from gently side to side, and occasionally pull your knees towards you chest to gently stretch out your lumbar spine. Every twenty minutes you should get up and walk around. This is an ideal time to apply the cold pack. Hold it over the epicentre of the pain for five minutes. Be sure to ensure that the plastic is not in contact with your skin as it will cause irritation.
  • If symptoms persist then physical therapy with an Osteopath, Physiotherapist , Sports Masseur or Chiropractor is appropriate. Treatment should be aimed at reducing the muscle tension, increasing the joint flexibility and suggesting appropriate exercises.

 The Guildhall Practice.

  • Contact us at The Guildhall Practice to book an appointment. 0121 632 5332.
  • Or book online http://theguildhallpractice.co.uk/
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