5 Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling


Snow shoveling is a repetitive activity that can cause muscle strain to the lower back and shoulders. Here’s a quick primer about how to help you avoid injuries.

While the appearance of a winter wonderland in your front yard can be a welcome one, an accompanying aspect is not: the idea of clearing your driveway and sidewalks.

“Unfortunately, snow shoveling can lead to back injuries, especially since our Sierra snow is usually wet and heavy,” says Dina Barry PT, MPT, OCS, from Renown Physical Therapy and Rehab. “Remember to use good body mechanics and only shovel light loads of snow so you don’t end up with a back problem that doesn’t go away.” 

If you do find yourself with back pain that doesn’t resolve in a few days, contact your primary health care provider and get a physical therapy referral. “Early treatment for low back pain is very successful at eliminating the cause of pain and reducing additional episodes in the future,” Barry says.

5 Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling

Following these tips from the American Physical Therapy Association can help you avoid injuries:

  1. Lift smaller loads of snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls. Be sure to bend your knees and lift with your legs, rather than your back.
  2. Use a shovel with a shaft that lets you keep your back straight while lifting. A short shaft will cause you to bend more to lift the load. Using a shovel that’s too long makes the weight at the end heavier. Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow to prevent the low back from twisting. This will help prevent “next-day back fatigue.”
  3. Avoid excessive twisting, because the spine cannot tolerate twisting as well as it can tolerate other movements. Bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible, so that you are lifting with your legs.
  4. Take frequent breaks when shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.
  5. Backward bending exercises while standing will help reverse the excessive forward bending of shoveling: stand straight and tall, place your hands toward the back of your hips and bend slightly backward for several seconds.

By following these tips, you’ll spend more time appreciating your winter wonderland — when your sidewalk and driveway are all clear, that is.

Need more advice? Renown Physical Therapy & Rehab is now located in four locations: central Reno, northwest Reno, south Reno and Sparks. Call 775-982-5001.


  1. 74 year old senior lady here. I too shovel my walks and drive way. I follow the 5 advise tips you gave, plus I also find it helpful to change hands periodically. Kind of balances out the muscle use on both sides of the body.
  2. A short video with proper body mechanics would be good. Using Shoveling characters like older male, woman rather than just young actor would be helpful. Showing different types of shovels is useful...I'm a senior lady who shovels my walkway and mailbox area yet not one younger person on my block clears the snow for their neighbors. What a disappointment.
    • Hello Louise! Thank you for reading! Please stay tuned to another story next month about snow shoveling mechanics and precautions. And if I were your neighbor, I would happily shovel your driveway for you! :) In good health, Roseann