A Guide to Managing Back Pain from Shoveling Snow

It was a refreshing sight to see snow again this January. However, although it’s beautiful to look at, snowfall also creates the difficult task of shoveling, which is a frequent cause of back injuries this time of year. Many patients are unaware of the potential risks associated with improper techniques, leading to back pain from shoveling snow. At AOSMI, we believe in educating our patients so that you are armed with more knowledge, which can help us work together to provide the best care possible. We have a dedicated team of orthopedic specialists to help treat the full range of back injuries that you may experience after shoveling snow. 


Why Does Shoveling Snow Cause Back Pain?


Back pain from snow shoveling often results from improper technique and the repetitive strain of lifting heavy snow.


What are the Types of Back Injuries? 


Herniated Discs – Improper lifting can exert excessive force on the spine, leading to herniated discs. This occurs when the soft inner material of a spinal disc protrudes through the tough outer layer, potentially compressing nerves.

Muscle Strains – Lifting heavy snow improperly can strain the muscles of the back, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.

Ligament Strains – Twisting motions during snow shoveling can cause sprains in the ligaments supporting the spine, contributing to pain and instability.

What are the Common Symptoms of Back Pain from Shoveling Snow? 


Localized Pain – Patients may experience localized pain in the lower back, ranging from mild discomfort to severe, debilitating pain.

Radiating Pain – In cases of disc herniation, pain may radiate down the legs, accompanied by tingling or numbness, a condition known as sciatica.


What are the Treatment Options for Back Pain from Shoveling Snow?


Non-surgical Options – Rest, Ice, and Physical Therapy

  • Most back injuries from shoveling snow are mild. They may initially be managed with rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medications 
  • If you’ve experienced a back injury from snow shoveling or are concerned about the strain it may cause, our physical therapists are your allies in learning the right shoveling techniques and strengthening the key muscles involved. Tailoring exercises to your needs, they focus on core, back, and leg muscles crucial for shoveling. Our experts will guide you in adopting proper body mechanics, offering insights into lifting techniques and correcting posture to prevent further injuries. 


Surgical Options – Discectomy, Spinal Fusion, or Laminectomy

  • For more serious injuries, surgery may be recommended. Procedures such as discectomy (removing a portion of a herniated disc), spinal fusion (joining two or more vertebrae), or laminectomy (removing a portion of the vertebra) may be recommended based on the specific nature of the injury.

Proper Technique for Shoveling Snow

  • Start by using a lightweight, ergonomic shovel and maintaining a shoulder-width stance. 
  • Bend at the hips and knees instead of the back, keeping the shovel close to your body. 
  • Engage your core muscles and pivot your entire body when tossing snow, rather than twisting at the waist. 
  • Lift with your legs, not your back, and take regular breaks to avoid overexertion.
  • Pushing snow whenever possible is less strenuous than lifting. 
  • By incorporating these techniques, you can minimize the strain on your back and reduce the risk of injuries during snow removal.


By addressing the specific back injuries from snow shoveling, we aim to equip you with the knowledge needed to navigate the season safely. At AOSMI, our team is committed to providing the highest quality orthopedic and physical therapy care to our patients across New Jersey. If you are experiencing pain or injury from snow shoveling, please request an appointment today. We are dedicated to helping you live a healthier, stronger life.