Shovel Snow Safely

Shoveling puts stress on your back due to the cold weather, weight of the snow, and improper shoveling ergonomics. Many people suffer from muscle strains, disc injuries, and even spinal fractures while shoveling snow. Some of the injuries are the result of excessive stress on spinal structures, and others occurring from slip and fall accidents.

Prior to shoveling, consider your heart health. Snow shoveling can put extra demands on your heart, especially if you have cardiovascular disease or other chronic health conditions, if you are over weight, or if you do not exercise regularly. If you question weather snow shoveling is safe for you, a better option might be hiring someone to do it for you. If you decide to shovel, pay attention to your body. Shortness of breath, dizziness, chest discomfort, or arm pain are all reasons to stop immediately and seek medical care.

Snow shoveling can be compared to weight lifting, and its aerobic aspect is similar to working out on a treadmill. Therefore, if you treat shoveling as you would an exercise workout, you will be safer.

• Warm up beforehand by taking an easy walk and stretching. Warm muscles are less prone to injury.

• Avoid smoking or consuming caffeine in prior to shoveling. They are stimulants that will raise your blood pressure and constrict your blood vessels. This will cause less blood to get your muscles, making them tighten up and become more vulnerable to injury.

• Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

• Take breaks as needed to avoid excess strain.

Be sure to select the proper shovel. Plastic blades are lighter than metal, thereby decreasing the total load lifted. Smaller blades force you to lift less snow. Carrying a smaller load more often is safer for your back than a heavy load less often. Curved handles are more ergonomically correct than straight ones. Once you get a shovel, spray some silicone or cooking spray on the blade to prevent snow from sticking as much, making it easier to unload. Most importantly, you should use proper technique when shoveling:

• Do not grip the handle with your hands close together. Some distance between your hands gives you more leverage and makes it easier to lift the snow.

• Lift properly. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep the shovel close to your body. Bend at the knees, not at the waist. Tighten your stomach as you lift, to brace your back. Do not twist to dump the snow; turn your whole body and dump the snow in front of you.

• If there is a lot of snow, remove it in parts. Take off an inch, rest, and then do another inch.

• Wear good boots and / or spread sand or salt to help you maintain your balance.

• Switch hands frequently to work both sides of your body evenly.

Dealing with snow removal is a part of life here in Wisconsin. Some simple preparation can make it safer and more comfortable for you. If you do suffer a back injury from shoveling, call us at (414) 774-2300 as soon as possible. Injuries heal faster if they are cared for as soon as possible.

References:

Abitol, Jean-Jacques, MD and Spinasanta, Susan. "Digging Your Way Through Winter: Tips for Snow Shovelling." Online at www.spineuniverse.com/displayarticle.php/article1412.html

"Shovelling Snow: Tips to Avoid Back Injury." Online at www.yna.org/new%20Pages/ComSaf.html

"Shovel Snow Safely: Get the Scoop." Online at www.edition.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/HQ/01398.html