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Snow Shoveling Safety

It is that time of year again... Although the kids enjoy playing in the snow, you are faced with the sometimes daunting task of shoveling it, particularly after last year's snowfall amounts. By following these recommendations, hopefully this will help to make it a positive, if not enjoyable, experience for you.

Looking at the Good

First, the positives: shoveling snow can be looked at as an excellent form of exercise. It should be considered a vigorous activity. In a study out of North Dakota State University, they determined that, based on heart rate alone, shoveling was considered a moderately intense activity for college-aged individuals but was a vigorous activity for about a third of their total shoveling time of 14 minutes.

Did you know: if you load the average shovel with 16 pounds of snow, you end up moving 192 pounds of snow if you load your shovel about 12 times a minute (or once every 5 seconds). That's almost 2,000 pounds being lifted in just over 10 minutes!

Recognizing the Bad

Now, the negatives: the potential for injury or even death. There is an increase in fatal heart attacks with shoveling snow, particularly after heavy snowfalls. Shoveling snow puts a sudden demand on one's heart and quickly increases heart rate and blood pressure - often times to higher levels than normally recommended during aerobic activity within just a few minutes of shoveling. Because of this, it is not recommended that you shovel if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • History of a heart attack
  • History of hear disease
  • History of high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels
  • Smokers
  • People who lead an otherwise sedentary lifestyle

Data suggests more than 100,000 people visit emergency rooms and doctor's offices due to injuries while removing snow manually each year. Many of the more common injuries include sprains and strains to the back and shoulders as well as lacerations and finger amputations.

If you are going to go out and shovel that snow, here are a few recommendations to follow:

  • Don't smoke or consume caffeinated beverages prior to shoveling. These -stimulants may increase your heart rate and cause blood vessels to constrict
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Dress in layers - you can take layers off as needed to avoid overheating
  • Wear a hat - to avoid losing body heat through your head
  • Wear comfortable, good boots for foot warmth and good traction to avoid slips and falls
  • PACE yourself - take breaks as needed
  • If you experience pain - STOP!
  • Warm your muscles up to avoid the potential for injury

Recommended techniques for selecting a snow shovel:

  • Use an ergonomically correct shovel
  • Consider shovels with plastic blades to reduce shovel weight
  • Consider smaller blades for smaller loads to push/lift/carry
  • Consider a slower pace with large quantities of snow

Recommended techniques for shoveling snow:

  • Spray silicon lubricant on the blade to avoid snow from sticking
  • Widen grip between hands to improve leverage
  • Maintain good posture
  • Maintain balance with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Keep the shovel close to your body, knees bent, and stomach tight
  • Push the snow instead of lifting it
  • If you must lift, lift with your legs and not your back - avoid twisting
  • Only lift what you can comfortable lift; shovel in sections
  • Fresh snow is lighter in weight - try to clear the snow as soon as it has fallen
  • Listen to your body and take breaks as needed

By following these simple recommendations, your snow shoveling experience can be a pain free, if not enjoyable one.

Resources:
Tips for snow shoveling: How to avoid back pain. http://www.spinuniverse.com
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
The scoop on snow shoveling safety. North Dakota State University
Tips to Shovel Snow Safely: Simple Tips To Avoid Snow Shoveling Health Risks, Rome Neal

Last Updated: 11/18/2010