As a lifelong New Englander, I know there are three things that are inevitable: death, taxes, and a late winter snow storm. But while a random six inches of powder can make a mid-week commute treacherous, it can also kill your back if you're not prepared for it.
And let's face it, most of us don't really put much thought into how we shovel snow until we tweak something. And it turns out, we're not naturally as good at shoveling snow as we might think. In fact, a study by the CDC showed that from 1990 to 2006 an average of 11,500 Americans wound up in the emergency room for snow shovel-related injuries.
The most common one? You guessed it: back injuries. Though obviously these are serious enough injuries to cause people to go to the ER, we've all woken up the day after a big snow storm with a sore back. We can do better.
From ergonomic snow shovels, to helpful accessories, it's pretty easy to improve your snow shoveling form. Here are some simple ways to get the snow off your driveway.
Get a better shovel
Your shovel makes a huge difference in how effective you are at moving snow. We recently tested the best snow shovels you can buy, and there's a surprising variety out there. Wide shovels, big shovels, small shovels, aluminum shovels, plastic shovels, shovels with metal blades, shovels without—it's a lot
The honest truth is you should have more than one shovel, especially if you live in an area that gets a few storms per year. Our favorite budget pick is the True Temper 20-inch Aluminum Combo shovel, which has an ergonomic shaft, an aluminum scoop, and a steel wear edge along the blade. It's a sturdy go-to that should last for years, and its design promotes proper form by letting you lift snow without bending over as far.
If you want to get a little out there, there are more extreme designs that help keep the strain of lifting snow off your back. One option that we tested was the Snow Joe Shovelution, which is a standard snow shovel with a second handle further down the shaft. Our tester, Dan Roth, found the second handle was weird to use, but user reviews are largely positive.
The second handle lets you better engage your upper body, putting more of the work on your arms and less on your back. You can also add second handles to snow shovels and other long-handled tools with something like the BackEZ Back Saver handle, which gives you more leverage but still requires stooping over.
Either way, a backup shovel is always a good idea—and it means you can split the work between two people.
Use better form—and don't forget to warm up!
The most important thing to remember about shoveling snow is that it's a workout. Snow, especially when wet, can be quite heavy. Shovels aren't light either, especially if you use the mostly metal options that we recommend. You can't just slap on some snow gear and expect to be ready to go. Treat your snow shoveling like any other exercise and do some light warming up—and make sure you are hydrated.
This article from Men's Health goes into some of the ways poor form can lead to back pain. Even if your poor form isn't causing noticeable stress on your back, it can still be more tiring since you're not using the most efficient way to move snow.
If you have any soreness or back pain, be sure to consult with your doctor about ways to treat it. Personally, I try to stretch my back muscles before and after, and keep my back as straight as possible. I also have (and love) this Shiatsu massaging pillow which helps knead tough back muscles while providing some much-needed heat.
Break up icy snow and remember the "inside-out" method
Getting snow off the ground is only part of the battle—you need to actually put it somewhere. Snow piles up quickly, and while making a giant pile of snow into a fort is a singular joy, it's also a lot of extra work.
For my driveway, which is mostly flat, I use the "Inside-Out" method. For wide stretches of snow this means I first shove a clean line down the center of the driveway one section at a time. Then I make my way down the driveway and shovel each side out horizontally.
This has a few advantages. First, I'm always shoveling snow in front of me, so I don't have to twist my back. Second, it means I'm usually moving snow the least amount of distance necessary. It also evenly distributes the snow around my driveway so it doesn't pile up excessively in any one place and I don't have to throw it any higher than necessary.
One other pro tip? Use your shovel's edge to cut the snow into "snow bricks" before shoveling underneath. Shovels mostly just push snow around, with a wear edge digging underneath (and hopefully through) slush and ice built up underneath. Breaking up the snow into smaller chunks before shoveling underneath gives it room to move upward, so you're not just pushing the snow into more snow. This is especially critical when the snow is icy on top, or has been sitting for a few days.
If the snow is light and fluffy and fresh? You may not have to lift it at all. In these cases you can often just push it around, removing the need to bend over and lift it altogether.