For Athletes
Shoveling Injuries To The Lower Back: How To Prevent Them

The north east just got walloped with snow, so like a good little boy, I went out and shoveled for grandma and grandpa. Before I went outside, grandma, in true grandma fashion said, “be careful!” I laughed. Me? Careful? Never. But while I was out shoveling I started to think about how potentially dangerous it is for most people to gear up and go outside and chaotically hurl snow around. When I got inside, I was intrigued. How dangerous is it? Do shoveling injuries frequently happen?

A recent study done by the Center For Injury Research showed that over 12,000 emergency room visits occur each year due to snow shoveling related injuries. Of those 12,000 injuries, the lower back was by far the most frequently effected region of the body.

So, that leads us to our next question. How do we hurt our lower backs?

The work of back specialist Dr. Stuart McGill shows us that the most likely cause of injury occurs when the lower back moves through flexion combined with rotation, while under load.

Recipe For Back Injury ^

To simplify and be more clear, injuries to the lower back primarily occur when we bend over and twist to lift things.

From these two points, we can extrapolate a simple yet important statement.

Every year tons of people hurt their backs while shoveling, likely due to bending and rotating.

So, how can we limit the chances of us hurting our backs during our next snow shoveling adventure?

1. Rather than bend at the lower back, bend from the hips and use your butt.
2. Rather than twist at the lower back, twist from the upper back and use your shoulders.
3. Use your core to stabilize and limit the amount of movement that will happen at the lower back.

We need a series of exercises that will loosen the hips and upper back while activating the core. If we can do this, we can safely say that we are at significantly less risk of being one of those 12,000 people visiting the hospital this year due to shoveling related injuries.

There are a ton of exercises that can loosen the hips, activate the core, and loosen the upper back. However, we want this to be quick, easy, require zero equipment, and be things everyone can do.

Further, we want exercises that will allow us to sit back into our hips as we bend over, both from a square stance and a split stance.  As you’ll see(and feel), the series below will do just that.

So, here we go. Before you head outside and attack the snow, get down and hit this quick series.

 

3 Minute Shovel Prep

Leg Lowers x 3/3

Side Lying Openers x 3/3

Loop And Lift x 3/3

Split Twist(No Need For Cables, Just Rotate Arms) x 3/3

Split Squat(Bodyweight) x 3/3

Bent Over Rotation x 3/3

  • Ktm Kim

    Hi everyone 🙂

    “To simplify and be more clear, injuries to the lower back primarily occur when we bend over and twist to lift things.”
    “We need a series of exercises that will loosen the hips and upper back while activating the core.”
    “1. Rather than bend at the lower back, bend from the hips and use your butt.”

    Rather than going after statistics, we can also ask WHY this is happening. And more, shouldn’t the human body be capable or being in flexion during rotation under load? Why is it not? A deeper question could be, how is the body COMPENSATING for an underlying dysfunction that causes the poor form in the first place? Working the ‘core’ or loosening the hips in an already dysfunctional musculoskeletal system won’t address a looming injury. Especially when the butt isn’t functioning in the first place (lower back compensates). Hip STABILIZATION is what we need. And form follows function, so we are stuck shoveling show against the tide (pardon the pun).

    If Gray Cook is correct and we’ve exchanged stability for mobility (as per his Joint by Joint approach ), its just a matter of time before something gives up. Its the instability of the low back (which can’t be addressed by deadlifts) that is compensating for dysfunctioning muscle groups (most likely but not always glutes), that puts it in the position of overworking/overcompensating and injuring itself. The body works as a unit.

    In my experience as a postural therapist for Egoscue University, this is exactly what is going on for all of us in compensation. An adaptation, and exchange of musculoskeletal ‘tasks’. These moves are a great answer to a statistical model, but there are wide varieties of postural dysfunctions that exhibit similar symptoms. Each require their own specific corrective E-cises to address.

    These are great concepts you’ve offered to address what seems to be regarded as a muscle weakness, however its less of a strength issue and more of an activation of the ‘dormant muscles’ that get the body functioning closer to its blueprint and OUT of its compensatory adaptation. Then the entire body as a unit restructures around restored function.

    Really good post! Thank you for letting me put in my 2 cents. You have a great site here!