Digging and Shoveling without the Back Strain

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Digging and Shoveling without Getting a Backache

A man shows a shovelful of snow.
A man shows a shovelful of snow. Syda_Productions

The opportunity to use a shovel is available all year round.  Which means, the risk of back strain or other spine injury is there, too.  Learning how to dig your garden or shovel snow with good body mechanics is easy to do and only takes a few minutes.  Slide on for some step by step guidance.

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Position the Shovel in Front of You

When shoveling or digging, position the blade level and parallel to your hip bones.
When shoveling or digging, position the blade level and parallel to your hip bones. (c) Anne Asher 2007 Licensed to About.com

Shoveling is hard work, so set yourself up for success right from the beginning.

Position the top of the shovel blade so that it is level. Ideally, it should be parallel to the top of your hip bones (pelvis) - assuming your hip bones are level.

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Place One Foot on the Shovel

(c) Anne Asher, Licensed to About.com

Position your feet so that one foot is in front of the other. Next, place your front foot on the shovel blade. Anchor your back leg into the ground to help stabilize your body posture.

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Lean In

(c) Anne Asher 2007, Licensed to About.com

Lean your weight forward onto the shovel. Let the weight of your body sink the shovel into the ground. Leveraging the dirt or snow in this way will help you avoid muscle strain associated with digging or shoveling.

Notice that the model in the picture is keeping her spine in one long unbroken, but flexible line.

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Begin Lifting - Use the Power of the Pelvis to Help You

The key to leveraging out the dirt or snow is to glide your pelvis back towards your back leg.
The key to leveraging out the dirt or snow is to glide your pelvis back towards your back leg. (c) Anne Asher 2007 Licensed to About.com

To begin lifting the dirt up, shift your weight to your back leg, using a gliding motion of the pelvis. Make sure you bend at hips and knees, and not the back. If you don't initiate the lifting from the pelvis you will be working harder than you need, and may cause yourself back or neck strain.

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Lower Your Body to Lift the Shovel Up

To lift the dirt out of the ground, if you lower your body down -- by bending at the hips and knees, not the back -- you can avoid straiing your back.
To lift the dirt out of the ground, if you lower your body down -- by bending at the hips and knees, not the back -- you can avoid straiing your back. (c) Anne Asher 2007 Licensed to About.com

Leverage the shovel out of the ground by bending the knees (especially the back leg) to lower your body down more. By lowering your body down when you lift the shovel up, you are positioning your center under the weight your are trying to lift, and harnessing the power of the pelvis, hips and legs rather than the back.

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Move Your Body to Dump the Dirt Out

To avoid back strain when shoveling, move your body as a unit to dump the stuff out.
To avoid back strain when shoveling, move your body as a unit to dump the stuff out. (c) Anne Asher 2007 Licensed to About.com

Instead of heaving the dirt over your shoulder or behind your body, why not take a less straining approach? It will likely save you energy and help you to avoid muscle strain if you move your whole body to where you want the dirt to go, then just turn the shovel handle to let it fall there. As usual, any bending should be at the hips and knees to help you avoid using the vulnerable areas of your back to do the heavy work.

Related:  5 Tips for Preventing Spinal Stenosis

 

Sources:
Hage, M., Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The Back Pain Book: A Self-Help Guide for Daily Relief of Neck and Low Back Pain. 2nd Edition. Peachtree Publishers. 1992, 2005.
Cathy Butler. Personal Interview and Course Notes: Effortless Gardening, as developed by Miriam Levenson, Feldenkrais Practitioner.

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