The Perfect Storm — Winter Weather and Lower Back Pain

Winter weather conditions and low back pain seem to frequently go hand in hand. This is especially true after the first big snowfall of the season. It’s all too easy to injure the lower back area, either from shoveling snow or from slipping or falling due to an ice-covered sidewalk or exterior set of stairs. Winter is also a time when people tend to slack off their exercise routine. In turn, their weakened muscles leave them more vulnerable to injury.  

Due to the natural hazards that occur during winter, doctors and physical therapists are more likely to see incidences of lower back pain than at almost any other time of the year. To this end, we want to offer our patients some tips on how to avoid becoming a lower back statistic this winter.

Stay Fit — Stay Safe

The shorter daytime hours and the frequent snowy conditions tend to draw people to the couch, where they snuggle under a blanket to watch their favorite TV show. While there’s nothing wrong with doing this on occasion, repeating this behavior every night throughout the winter isn’t healthy. What starts as a few days of inactivity, leads to months of inactivity, which weakens a person’s core musculature. On the occasions when a person has to shovel snow or lift and carry groceries across less-than-ideal conditions, their weakened muscles leave them vulnerable to injury.

To counter this trend, it’s important to find outlets that will help you stay strong and fit. Winter is a great time to join a local gym or sign up for group exercise classes at your local school. Consider investing in some exercise equipment for the home, such as an elliptical machine or a reclining stationary bike. If you need budget-friendly options, free weights and exercise bands are good choices. Lastly, YouTube and other sites offer a plethora of free exercise videos — from yoga, Pilates, and weight-lifting classes to targeted back-strengthening exercises and cardio. There are even videos demonstrating exercises you can perform while sitting in a chair.   

Snow Removal 

Even if you commit to exercising and staying strong this winter, it’s important to be smart when shoveling snow. Be sure to practice good form and technique when shoveling. This means using a shovel that is tall enough, so you don’t have to hunch over to scoop the snow. Make sure you bend your knees slightly and lift your legs as you move in to scoop the snow. Maintaining good posture is also crucial when shoveling. Try to remain upright as much as possible, rather than hunching your shoulders (or lower back) over the shovel. Last, but not least, shovel in such a way as to minimize twisting motions.

It’s also essential to use strategies that can reduce the load of snow you need to remove at any given time. This may mean shoveling more frequently, rather than waiting until the snow really piles up and then deciding to shovel. If a big storm hits, don’t try to lift all eight inches of snow in one scoop. Scoop off the top four, then scoop again to remove the remaining four inches. It may take a bit longer to shovel this way, but you’ll reduce your chances of injury. 

Lastly, if you have severe arthritis or a serious health condition such as spinal stenosis, let someone else do the job of clearing your driveway and sidewalks. Either have someone in the family take over the snow removal chores or hire a snow removal company. Staying safe and healthy this winter will more than makeup for the money you spend on snow removal. 

Slip and Fall Accidents

A person can choose whether to remain fit during the winter, and they have control over how/if they’ll shovel snow. However, it’s more difficult to have control over slip-and-fall accidents. Businesses and other homeowners don’t always do a good job of keeping ice away from sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots. At best, a bad slip and fall accident will likely cause some lower back pain. At its worst, a slip and fall injury can have catastrophic health consequences.

To minimize your risk of a slip-and-fall accident, be sure to keep your own sidewalks, steps, and driveway clear of ice. When walking in public places, wear weather-friendly footwear, preferably with outsoles made of rubber or some other material that will provide solid traction. 

When walking outside, stay aware of the path in front of you. If you see an icy patch ahead, avoid walking over it if you can. Lastly, keep a container of ice melt in your vehicle. If you open your door and notice the ground underneath is icy, simply scatter a scoop of ice melt over the icy patch for added traction. 


If you’re having lower back pain due to a seasonal injury, don’t try to “grin and bear it”. We can help! Call Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehab at 570-208-2787, or email us at: