How To Avoid An Embarrassing Snow-Shoveling Injury

·Deputy Editor

Slips, falls, and fractures… here’s how to shovel snow without hurting yourself. (Photo: Devon Hollahan/Flickr)

It’s winter, and in many parts of the country, this means your city is getting pummeled by snow or is just getting a light sprinkling of the white stuff. But either way, chances are you’ll need to shovel some sort of path out of your house.

So do it the right way.

Health experts say that snow shoveling can actually carry health risks if you’re not careful. Due to its strenuousness, the activity can even trigger a heart attack if your heart is not in tip-top shape. In fact, Harvard Health editor Patrick Skerrett writes, “Picking up a shovel and moving hundreds of pounds of snow, particularly after doing nothing physical for several months, can put a big strain on the heart.” And it doesn’t help that cold weather also increases blood pressure and could increase the risk of developing blood clots.

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“A sensitivity to one’s cardiac [heart] status has to be at the top of the list” of concerns when it comes to shoveling snow, Stuart Hirsch, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Bridgewater, N.J., tells WebMD. “The heart is our most important muscle.” The Mayo Clinic notes that if you have a history of heart problems and you feel a tightness in your chest while shoveling snow, you should go to see a doctor.

In fact, a 2011 study showed that snow shoveling really does increase risk of experiencing a heart attack.

But it’s not just people with heart problems who face health risks from shoveling snow; injuries are also common. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), 28,000 people were treated in emergency rooms in 2013 because of injuries related to shoveling or some other manual removal of snow.

Lower back pain is the top injury that could occur from shoveling snow. “Thats when a muscle gets over-tensioned and tightens,” orthopedic surgeon Henry Goitz, MD, of Henry Ford Hospital, tells “If it over-tightens, its almost like a spasm and that gets very painful.” Herniated disk is another potential injury from snow-shoveling; a sign of this is back pain that goes down the leg.

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Here are some tips from the AAOS and the Mayo Clinic for staying safe if you need to bundle up and clear a path:

  • Wear the right clothing. Make sure your shoes have slip-resistant soles so you don’t lose your footing on patches of ice, and make sure you’re dressed warmly (and wear gloves/mittens to avoid blisters!).

  • Ensure proper visibility. Don’t shovel snow if you cannot fully see the area you are working on.

  • Drink lots of water. Dehydration can occur just the same, whether it’s hot or cold outside.

  • Warm up properly. Before shoveling snow, take a walk and stretch it out.

  • Make sure you bend from the knees, not the back. “Lift with your legs bent, stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body,” the Mayo Clinic advises. “Try not to twist. If you move the snow to one side move your feet to face the direction the snow will be going.” points out, too, that twisting the body can lead to a herniated disk and back pain.

  • Shovel early and often, if you can. More packed, heavy snow can present more risk for injuries, so try to clear out snow when there’s just a lighter covering on the ground.

  • Consult with your doctor. Make sure you check with your physician before you shovel snow if you haven’t exercised in awhile.

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