You Hurt Your Back Shovelling Snow—Now What?

We asked two experts what to do about back pain caused by shovelling snow.

The First Opinion

“If six inches of snowfall on a given day, a person with an average double driveway could be shovelling between 1,100 and 1,500 pounds of snow, depending on how wet the snow is. And that repeated movement, with that much weight, can be hard on your back—especially the lower back.

“If you get localized muscle-type pain in your back, stop shovelling to prevent an even greater injury. Gently and slowly stretch the muscle. Take either a hot shower with a shower massager aimed at the painful area or, if possible, soak in a hot bath with Epsom salts. Repeated alternating applications of heat followed by ice for 10 to 15 minutes each will often help reduce pain and spasm.

“If the pain persists even after one day, have your back examined by a back expert to ensure a quick and safe recovery. The biggest mistake people make when experiencing back pain is waiting too long to see a professional because they thought the pain would go away.

“Most often, back injuries start out small and go unchecked until a patient suffers so much pain that it can no longer be ignored. Waiting too long can cause the injury to develop into a more serious disc-related back problem that might even require surgery.”

– Dr. Ron Nusbaum, chiropractor, and founder and director of Back Clinics of Canada

(Related: 6 At-Home Massage Tools Physiotherapists Swear By)

The Second Opinion

“First, try to keep moving. Walk around at a moderate pace and keep your arms swinging gently. Generally, a good stretch away from the direction of injury is helpful.

Since shovelling involves bending forward, stretching backwards may help de-stress the area. A deep back bend feels best for me. Ice is a great treatment in reducing inflammation; I recommend 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. CryoDerm, a medicated ointment containing arnica, menthol and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), helps to manage both inflammation and pain.

“Thousands of back injuries occur at this time of year, but there are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk.

“For starters, shovel later in the day. Morning is the most common time to hurt your back (due to the natural swelling of back discs combined with the inactivity of muscles during sleep, which results in additional pressure on the area and slower reaction times). Before starting, walk and swing your arms around to warm up your muscles.

“And, pace yourself when shovelling. Push the snow rather than lifting and throwing it over your shoulder. When you do need to lift a shovel full of snow, keep your spine stiff and bend your legs, not your back.

Take a 30-second break every five minutes or so, and avoid twisting your spine.”

– Dr. Brent MacNeil, chiropractor, Spa Solutions, Dartmouth, NS

Next: 9 Things Doctors Wish You Knew About Shovelling Snow

Originally Published in Best Health Canada