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Shoveling is an essential part of the gardening experience. However, poor shoveling technique can lead to back, shoulder and neck pain. For those individuals with osteoporosis, it can cause compression fractures. To avoid these outcomes, I  provide eight shoveling safety tips I encourage my patients to follow — especially those with osteoporosis, osteopenia, or low back pain.

  • Wear sturdy shoes that keep you grounded and that allow you to transfer your force into the ground.
  • Use a sharp shovel that can penetrate the soil in your garden.
  • Use a shovel that is the right length for you.
  • The shovel handle should be between your shoulder and your hip. That is your power zone.
  • Take the earth or gravel out of the hole with your legs and not your back.
  • Leverage (or offset) the load onto your leg.
  • Keep the load close to your body as you move the shovel.
  • When moving in another direction, move with your feet and do not rotate.
shoveling safety tips

Shoveling Safety Tips Video Demonstration

Eight Shoveling Safety Tips

Follow these shoveling safety tips when you move plants, re-establish gardens, or replant things. This is the advice that I give to many of my clients.

Wear Sturdy Shoes

  • Wear sturdy shoes that allow you to transfer your force into the ground.

Choose the Right Shovel

  • Use a sharp shovel that is the right height for you.
  • At just under five-two, a short-handled shovel is perfect for me.
  • For my taller clients, I would recommend that they use a longer handled shovel so that they can get up and behind the shovel.
  • Because I’m not that tall, I use a short shovel.
  • Anybody over five-seven using a short shovel will end up in a position where the shovel is below the height of their hip.
  • You do not want to be in this position because you can’t get your body weight over the shovel.
  • The handle of the shovel should be below your shoulder and above your hip. That is in your power zone.

Establish Your Power Zone for Shoveling

  • Remove the earth or  gravel with your legs and less so with your back and your arms.
  • If you lift with your back and arms your legs would be straight, forcing you to bend from the back and use your arms.
  • You might not experience the detrimental effects of this within a day, but eventually you pay the consequences with your bones or discs.
  • Use your legs to lift.
  • If it’s a really heavy load, offset some of the weight onto your thigh as you’re coming up.
  • Then keep that load as close as possible as you move your load.
  • If you are moving the load in another direction,  always move your feet in the direction that you are going to drop the load, as opposed to just taking it and rotating from the body. That movement is to be a lot more harmful on your back.

That covers shoveling safety tips for your garden.

Exercise Recommendations for Osteoporosis

Exercise is an essential ingredient to bone health. If you have osteoporosis, therapeutic exercise needs to be part of your osteoporosis treatment program.

But what exercises should you do and which ones should you avoid? What exercises build bone and which ones reduce your chance of a fracture? Is Yoga good for your bones? Who should you trust when it comes to exercises for osteoporosis?

A great resource on exercise and osteoporosis is my free, seven day email course called Exercise Recommendations for Osteoporosis. After you provide your email address, you will receive seven consecutive online educational videos on bone health — one lesson each day. You can look at the videos at anytime and as often as you like.

I cover important topics related to osteoporosis exercise including:

  • Can exercise reverse osteoporosis?
  • Stop the stoop — how to avoid kyphosis and rounded shoulders.
  • Key components of an osteoporosis exercise program.
  • Key principles of bone building.
  • Exercises you should avoid if you have osteoporosis.
  • Yoga and osteoporosis — should you practice yoga if you have osteoporosis?
  • Core strength and osteoporosis — why is core strength important if you have osteoporosis?

Enter your email address and I will start you on this free course. I do not SPAM or share your email address (or any information) with third parties. You can unsubscribe from my mail list at any time.

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Activities of Daily Living

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May 8, 2018 at 5:12pm

Maxine Grunwald

I am concerned about the best way to manage luggage when traveling.Whether using carry on luggage or checking bags,there is still lifting involved.
I recently had an MRI which showed osteoarthritis,disc bulging and nerve inflammation,worse at L4 and 5.
I also have osteoporosis.
I recently used carry on luggage,but the airline flight attendant would not assist in lifting it.
What to do?? Thanks.

May 8, 2018 at 7:59pm

Margaret Martin replies

Hi Maxine, Great question. In most cases if you take a carry on that is just a little too big they have you leave it with the baggage crew just before you board the plane. It is then delivered to you as you exit the plane. It takes a few minutes longer than bringing your carry on onto the plane but there is no lifting involved. Safe travels!

June 22, 2019 at 12:04pm


THANK YOU for this video!!! Very timely! I just had 5 yards of crushed concrete delivered, and safely shoveled for 3 hours with the right sized shovel and right technique. The tip on using your leg for leverage was great. My smaller shovel also made for lighter loads. I'm an OT and I know better, but was still guilty in the past of twisting to speed up a job. Seeing you do it the right way changed my mind about speed. Also, I really didnt get tired doing it the right way.

June 23, 2019 at 4:28pm

Richard Martin replies

Hi Linda. Glad you found the post useful.

May 14, 2020 at 7:50pm

Angela Earl

Thank you for these helpful videos and tips on safe movement. With osteoporosis and compression fractures it is a plus that I am still able to do the things I love safely, even if it is for short periods of time.
I am now very conscious on how I move, sit, walk etc, it only I'd done this years ago.

May 15, 2020 at 7:37am

Richard Martin replies

Hi Angela. Thank you for your comments.

April 17, 2021 at 10:05pm

Lynn Dent

This is a very timely video as I took out my shovel this week to dig up a weed patch. Thanks for your helpful videos.

April 18, 2021 at 8:06am

Richard Martin replies

Hi Lynn. You are welcome. Glad you found it useful. Safe gardening!

April 17, 2021 at 10:08pm

Lynn Dent

This was a very timely video as I took out the shovel this past week to dig up a patch of weeds. Thanks for your help to protect my back!

April 18, 2021 at 8:06am

Richard Martin replies

Hi Lynn. You are welcome. Glad you found it useful. Safe gardening!