Back pain shovel

How to Shovel Without Hurting Your Back

Shoveling is an essential part of the routine for most people all year round.

When it comes to using a shovel regularly, it can quickly put your back at risk for strains.

If you are using a shovel for the first time, or regularly digging dirt, planting trees, or seasonally for snow, and do not know how to shovel, it is possible to hurt yourself.

The proper body posture while doing such a job will help reduce the chance of injury.

It is all about understanding the right body mechanics, and you can learn these in a few simple tips.

Table of Contents

Dress Correctly For The Task

Before you start working on the best body mechanics for shoveling, remember that what you are wearing is the first step in protecting your back from pain and strain. 

Opt for sturdy, grippy shoes with close-toes or even steel toes when it comes to footwear.

Ensure that you are wearing gloves to protect your hands and have a good grip on the shovel.

Always wear fully covering clothes like long pants.

Warm-up first

Shoveling is a strenuous exercise, and it puts pressure on your heart, lungs, and muscles.

Before you start the shoveling process, you can always benefit from a little warm-up exercise.

Just walk or jog around for a few minutes to get your system pumped.

You can also do some stretches to promote flexibility, focusing on the arms, legs, shoulders, back, and stomach.

When shoveling, you need a fluid motion, much like golfing. 

Stretching will help your body prepare for this swinging motion and, consequently, prevent chances of hurting or straining your back too.

Positioning the Shovel

Position the shovel right in front of you, ensuring that the top part of the shovel blade stays level.

The shovel should be parallel to your hip bone or pelvis.

Next, keep your feet apart and in alignment with your hip-width.

Keep your body close to the body of the shovel.

Lift the shovel vertically and place it on the substrate you are digging.

Prepare to push the shovel into the dirt.

Place your foot on the shovel, adjusting your feet so that one foot is in front of the other.

Lift your front foot and place it on the blade of the shovel.

The critical point here is that your back leg should be anchoring you firmly into the ground. 

Anchoring helps in giving you added stability and also keeps your body posture stable.

Now lean into the shovel with your body while pushing the shovel blade down into the ground.

Shoveling is all about body mechanisms and correct weight distribution.

Leaning forward into the shovel will allow you to utilize your body weight, making your shovel sink further into the ground.

Also, remember to keep your spine straight and long but try to maintain flexibility.

It all sounds like a twister game, but these steps are key because it means more than one part of your body won’t take all the weight and end up giving you a muscle strain.

Its Lifting Time

It is time to start shoveling now.

Start by shifting your weight towards your back leg now.

Glide your pelvis along while bending the knees and hips without bending your back.

This movement is essential to prevent back injury or pain.

Your pelvis should help you lift so that your back and neck do not get affected.

There is no need to go into shoveling with a heavy hand and fast pace.

Just start slow and slowly build up the amount of dirt/snow you lift.

As you progress through the task slowly and with purpose, the impact and weight will not be as significant and will reduce back strain and pain.

Leveraging the shovel

Bend your knees to lower down the body, and leverage the shovel into and out of the ground.

Now lift the shovel using the pelvis, legs, and hips while keeping your body weight in the center.

Again, the key is to avoid using the back to leverage the shovel.

Dumping out the dirt

Now it is time to dump out the dirt or snow on the shovel.

You need to take the approach that causes the least strain.

The right way to do this is to move your entire body in a fluid motion, in the direction where you want the dirt to land.

Once you have maneuvered your body to face that position, turn the shovel’s handle and let the earth fall.

Using the whole body will use less energy, prevent straining muscles, and maintain the right balance.

Whenever you need extra support, bend the knees and hips rather than your back.

If you feel that there is obvious discomfort or pain while shoveling, immediately stop the activity and take some rest.

If the pain persists, always consult a doctor.

Take a look at our article on Choosing the Best Shovel For You.

Video Showing Steps

To see the above steps in action play the video below.