How to Relieve Low Back Pain After Snow Shoveling

snow-shovelerThe East Coast is experiencing its first blizzard of the season. People are bracing (literally!) for the cold and getting their snow shovels and supplies ready. While I absolutely love snowstorms, and even consider snow shoveling an excellent workout, I can do without the low back and hip pain it can cause.

A few years ago after the last snows of a blizzard had subsided, my son came in from an afternoon of earning money shoveling snow.  “My back is killing me, Mom,” he told me. “I need a massage!” His back was in spasm and he desperately needed relief. I promised him a massage (I was a massage therapist for 25 years and gave it up after discovering Hanna Somatics), but only after he did a few Hanna Somatic Exercises.

Sounds cruel to deny your child a massage in such a situation, right? Not really. I knew that were I to massage his muscles while they were in spasm, they would become even tighter. A muscle in spasm is a muscle the brain can’t control. If you press and knead that muscle or muscle group, it can contract back against your pressure, creating more muscle tension than before. This is called the “stretch reflex.” The stretch reflex is a protective, spinal cord reflex that contracts a muscle back against a stretch to save it from being traumatized or injured. Once that muscle’s length and function is restored at the nervous system level a massage feels great and doesn’t create tension.

I assured him his massage would be much more enjoyable once his brain reminded his muscles that they were no longer engaged in the arduous task of snow shoveling! After five minutes of Somatic Exercises and pandiculation he got up off the floor and, grudgingly, expressed amazement at how much better his back felt. Now, when his back is tight from shoveling, working out, or desk work, he does his Somatic Exercises and feels great.

Muscles spasms release more effectively with Somatic Exercises and pandiculation.

Here are the Somatic Exercises my son learned that taught his brain to regain control of the involuntarily contracted muscles that caused his back pain. To maximize the benefits, do these easy, safe Somatic Exercises before, and after, snow shoveling:


This exercise teaches your brain to regain control of the back muscles. Gently contract the back muscles and roll the pelvis, and then slowly release your back, returning yourself to neutral. Go slowly and notice the pleasant wave-like feeling as your back moves from the base of your head all the way down to the tailbone.




  1. Lay on your back with your knees up and feet planted. Place your hands, with fingers interlaced, behind your head.
  2. Inhale and gently arch your lower back and tip your pelvis in the direction of your feet. This tightens the back muscles (only go as far as is comfortable and never force!).
  3. Exhale and slowly relax your back to the floor. When your back is flat, tuck your chin, point the elbows toward the knees, pick your head up, and slowly curl up as you contract the abdominal muscles.
  4. Inhale and slowly relax back to the floor.

Remember: this is not a sit-up! As you curl up, you are lengthening the back muscles as you tighten the belly. When you slowly come down, you are relaxing the abdominals.


This exercise relaxes the muscles of the trunk so that both sides of your waist muscles are relaxed and released. When we shovel snow we always tend to shovel on one side only. That twisting movement is a natural movement, yet when done while lifting wet, heavy snow it can cause a lot of muscle tension on one side of the body. The side bend will help you relax out of that twist once you are done shoveling.


Enjoy lengthening and releasing the entire center of your body as you learn to gently “wring your body out like a washrag” – from your shoulders down to your hips.

These easy, safe movements can be done every day to keep your muscles remembering how to relax. The brain controls the muscles, therefore repetitive activities (such as snow shoveling) can teach your muscles to become rigid and “frozen.” The solution is to get your brain to remind your muscles how to relax again. All it takes is five minutes of gentle, aware Somatic Movement and those muscles will begin to relax and release.  Then you can go back outside in the snow and play!

Click here to purchase any of the Pain-Free Series of instructional Somatic Exercise DVDs.

9 thoughts on “How to Relieve Low Back Pain After Snow Shoveling

    • Glad you like these methods. Yes, you can use these methods and concepts to help reverse the pain of sitting in front of a computer all day. Better yet, refer to my website – – for videos, and articles that may help you further. My instructional DVD will be coming out in February 2011, so stay tuned. This DVD will teach you exercises and methods for self care that will further enhance your awareness of your movement so that your work doesn’t have to cause you pain!

  1. Pingback: How to Do “Warm Up” with Somatics « Pain Relief Through Movement

  2. Oh my goodness, I’m SO going to try these! I’ve had chronic headaches, neck pain and back spasms for years since a car accident. Chiropractic has helped but not eradicated the pain. In the past couple of months I’ve started having severe hip pain in my left him that pinches the sciatic nerve; someone has called it Piraformis. I’m going to try these exercises, it makes more sense than what I’ve been told to do.

    • Hanna Somatics makes a ton of sense. It’s the only method that taught me how to get rid of the chronic hip pain I had due to old dance injuries. The movements will teach your brain how to retrain your muscles to RELAX! A sudden accident can teach your muscles how to stay “frozen” and contracted, as if the accident just happened yesterday. The only way to change that is to get the brain to teach the muscles how to relax again. The brain needs to take back voluntary control of the now IN-voluntarily contracted muscles. The movements/methods on the DVD will help you learn to do that.
      Chronically contracted back muscles can cause tension headaches (think of where the back muscles attach into the base of the skull), sciatica (read this article: and neck/shoulder pain that, if not addressed, can become habituated.
      Please feel free to contact me with any questions once you review the DVD and learn the movements.

  3. Pingback: What To Do About Hip Pain? « Pain Relief Through Movement

  4. I have had pain for about five years. I fell from a horse at the canter and torqued my back (waist) when I fell. I had an x-ray but there was no seen injury. A few months later I started limping. This has been on-going since 2007 in varying degrees. I have seen many MD’s, had x-rays, MRI’s, etc.i was in massage therapy for a year which gave me some relief, but nothing permanent. I tried arrosti which gave some relief. the pain is still there. The massage therapist told me I was tighter on my left side but my pain is on my right side, particularly around my glute and groin area. I still try to ride but wind up in some pain after short sessions even at the walk. I get so discouraged, but will try these exercises. You cannot imagine how much $ I have spent on this pain!
    I am 60 by the way, used to run – was very active , being in pain is debilitating!

    • Hi Marian,

      Did you read my blog post about horseback riders? Here it is. It has more information that I think will sound very familiar to you as far as your injury and experience is concerned.
      I think you could get a lot out of learn Hanna Somatics. Just beginning with the most basic somatic exercises (on my DVD Pain Relief Through Movement) would begin to retrain your brain and muscles to reverse the hip, glut and groin pain and regain a proper gait so you’re no longer limping.
      You would get especially rapid, deep relief and awareness of the patterns you’ve compensated with in private clinical sessions. Where do you live? Perhaps there’s someone near you who you could work with.
      Being in pain is debilitating, and knowing that you were once more active and would like to remain that way can be intensely frustrating.
      Would you like some guidance as to what to do to start learning how to reverse the muscular pain patterns you’re stuck in? You can contact me directly at I’m here to help.

      All the best,

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