Every year thousands of people are injured due to shoveling snow. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine shows that snow shoveling results in acute injuries of our musculoskeletal system due over exertion or falls. Some of the most common musculoskeletal injuries include:

  1. Back pain and low back injuries
  2. Shoulder pain
  3. Pulled or strained muscles
  4. Injuries caused by falling: fractures, torn ligaments, tendons, and muscles


Muscle strains to the low back are extremely common with shoveling. An acute muscle strain is when your muscle tears. This can happen suddenly or as a result of repetitive movements. This usually occurs as a result of fatigue, overuse, or improper use of a muscle. Strains occur more commonly in cold weather because muscle are tighter. It’s important to take extra time to warm up in these conditions to prevent strains.

Causes of muscle strains

  • not warming up properly before physical activity
  • poor flexibility and conditioning
  • overexertion and fatigue
  • slip or lose your footing
  • lift something heavy or lift something while in you’re in an awkward position

There’s a misconception that only rigorous exercises and workouts of high intensity cause muscle strains. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, muscle strains can even occur from walking.

Muscle Strain Symptoms:

  • a sudden or gradual onset of pain
  • muscle soreness, spasm, or ‘knotted’ feeling
  • decrease in Range of Motion
  • stiffness and tightness
  • weakness

Tips for Snow Shoveling and Avoiding Injury

  • Warm up your muscles. Before you begin to shovel take the time to properly warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.
  • Take your time. Snow shoveling and snow blowing are aerobic activities. Take frequent breaks and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, stop the activity and seek emergency care.
  • Proper equipment. Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
  • Proper lifting. Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, do it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once–this is particularly important in the case of heavy, wet snow. Do it in pieces.
  • Safe technique. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.

Pain After Shoveling

Keep in mind that the pain you feel is caused by microtears in the muscles and surrounding soft tissue. These microtears heal with adhesive scar tissue that results in muscle tightness, and can cause impingement on nerves and vessels. This is a recipe for future pain and injury.

Strained muscles respond very well to conservative treatments such as

These therapies can accelerate the recovery time and keep you moving so you are not laid up.

Dr Baker is highly trained in the diagnosis and treatment of these injuries. He will advise you on how to treat your injury based on your specific diagnosis and needs. It is best to seek care rather than risk further pain or injury by waiting it out.

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