Snow Shoveling 101

Winter is here, and freezing temperatures, sleet and snow can cause havoc and injuries.

Before you begin to clear snow from your driveway or walkway, remember that snow shoveling is a cardiovascular and weight-lifting exercise. It should be treated like a day in the gym – stretch before exercising and take it slow if you’re not in shape. Using good body mechanics will decrease the stress to your spine and decrease your risk of injury and falls. Here are some tips to keep good body mechanics and avoid overexertion when snow shoveling:

Kessler Institute, a national leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, offers the following suggestions:

  • Avoid caffeine or nicotine before shoveling, especially if you have a history of or are at high risk for a heart attack. These stimulants may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict, which places extra stress on the heart. If you have a heart condition, respiratory issues or back problems, check with your doctor before doing any shoveling.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Dress in layers and be sure to wear a hat, gloves and sturdy, non-skid waterproof footwear. Avoid wearing scarves or hats that block your vision, and do wear sunglasses or goggles to reduce glare.
  • Move slowly and cautiously, and watch where you are walking. What may look like wet pavement may actually be black ice, so be extra careful. When walking down stairs, plant your feet securely on each step and hold the handrail firmly.
  • Before shoveling, warm up for about 10 minutes. Do some basic exercises to stretch your back, arms and legs, and walk or march in place. “Warm” muscles generally work more efficiently and are less likely to become injured.
  • Try to shovel fresh snow, before it becomes, packed or refrozen. It may be helpful to shovel a few times during a snowfall rather than waiting until the storm ends when the snow is deeper and heavier.
  • If possible, try pushing the snow rather than lifting. When lifting, pick up small amounts of snow at a time using your legs, not your back. Scoop the snow in a forward motion and step in the direction as you throw the snow. Avoid twisting and tossing the snow over your shoulder or to the side.
  • Switch hands periodically and alternate the side to which you are throwing snow to more evenly distribute the work load and repetitive muscle use.
  • Use a sturdy snow shovel that has open ends to allow you to easily toss the snow off to the side.
  • Pace yourself. Be sure to take frequent breaks to rest and avoid overexertion. Exhaustion can make you more susceptible to injury, hypothermia and frostbite.
  • Most important: If you begin to experience any pain in your chest, arm or neck, shortness of breath or profuse sweating, stop shoveling immediately and seek emergency medical attention.

Remember that snow shoveling is hard work. By understanding your own physical health and taking the appropriate precautionary measures, you can help to reduce the risk of injury during these long winter months.

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