How to avoid a herniated disc while shoveling snow

Snow. It’s beautiful and white and seems to invoke almost an instant desire to throw snowballs, drink hot chocolate and pretend all the world is a winter wonderland. Well, at least until you have to shovel the not-so-fluffy white stuff to walk down your sidewalk or access your driveway, right? All is well with the world and snow until you almost herniate a disc in your back trying to clear a path free of snow.

Back pain brought on by a herniated disc is one of the most common winter injuries and is most likely to be caused by improper snow-shoveling techniques. Some herniated discs may lay incognito and never produce symptoms, while others may scream at you with rage for treating your back so poorly. If a herniated disc becomes symptomatic, it may produce symptoms such a numbness, tingling and weakness in the extremities. So why take the chance of incurring the wrath of your spine for causing back pain? Follow these tips to help get you through the snow-shoveling season herniated-disc free.

Shovel selection

One of the best things you can do for your body is to equip yourself with the correct tools for the job. Shoveling snow is not an easy task, but you can lighten the load on your back by using the correct shovel. Choose a shovel that has a curved handle, is adjustable in length and is light weight. A shovel with a small, plastic blade is recommended.

Warm up

Shoveling snow isn’t akin to working out, so why do you need to warm up? That’s a common misconception; shoveling snow is exactly like working out at the gym. You need to limber up your muscles prior to shoveling. Warm muscles are less likely to be injured, unlike cold muscles that are prone to injury. A lower chance for injury means there is less of a chance you will have back pain.

Bundle up

Even though you will be working up a sweat shoveling away the snow, it is important to dress in layers and keep your body warm. This will help keep your muscles warm and limber and assist in avoiding back pain later. Make sure you protect your ears, nose, mouth and hands and feet with proper protective garments to stave off frostbite.

Spine savvy lifting

Proper lifting techniques can save your spine a lot of pain down the line. Ergonomic snow shoveling is essential back health. Start by squaring off your hips and shoulders, facing the pile of snow. Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground, bend from the hips and lift with your knees, not your back. Keep your loads light and avoid throwing the shoveled snow over your shoulders. Instead, opt for pushing the snow aside. When you turn to relocate the snow, it is important to avoid twisting your torso and pivot your entire body instead.

Drink fluids

Even though you’re outside in the freezing cold, it is still important to stay hydrated. Take frequent breaks to drink water. Avoid drinking beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine increases your heart rate and constricts blood vessels while alcohol promotes lethargy and increases your risk for hypothermia.

Slow and steady

There’s no need to rush. Take your time and take pause several times to give your back a break.

If shoveling snow causes you pain, stop immediately. If you fear you have a herniated disc due to shoveling snow, consult your primary care physician. Your winter tasks don’t have to bring on back pain, especially when they’re performed correctly.


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