Tips for Staying Safe While Shoveling Snow

Tips for Staying Safe While Shoveling Snow

Next time the snow starts falling, stay safe when you shovel. Common problems that can result from snow shoveling include back or other muscular strain, frostbite and heart attacks.

These tips can help you to avoid joining the thousands of people who end up in emergency rooms, visiting their family doctor or seeing a specialist due to injuries after the first heavy snowfall.

Some basic tips for safe shoveling for all ages:

It's a workout

  • A full shovel of wet snow can weigh up to 25 pounds, so shoveling snow for any amount of time is like getting a workout at the gym. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, have had heart issues, are overweight or out of shape, adjust your shoveling, if any, to the degree of exercise you are used to.
  • Start slowly to warm up. Hydrate throughout as you would for other exercise. (But avoid using caffeinated drinks to keep warm, as they will raise your heart rate even higher than the exercise otherwise would.)

Staying warm

  • Pay particular attention to keeping your extremities warm to protect against frostbite — that includes your nose, ears, hands and feet. Wear waterproof boots. (Also, when your extremities get cold, the blood vessels tighten up and may put additional strain on the heart.) If you can't feel your fingers and toes, go inside!
  • Dress in layers so you can remove them as needed as you warm up.

The shovel, and how to use it

  • Use a shovel designed so that both the blade and handle are about elbow height, so that you don't have to stoop to shovel. Plastic shovels are lighter than metal ones. The handle, in particular, should be plastic or wood, because metal gets too cold.
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart, bend your knees and lift with your legs to avoid straining your back. Your back should be relatively straight as you lift and throw. Do not twist to throw the snow — that's the way to strain your back. Your feet should be facing in the direction where you will throw the snow. Turn your feet if you need to change direction. Never throw the snow over your shoulder — that's only done for show!
  • Only fill the shovel halfway (or less if a full shovel feels heavy to you). Your muscles will thank you tomorrow!

Safe snow shoveling technique

  • Tighten your abs when lifting.
  • Switch from right to left sides frequently — share the burden on both shoulders.
  • Take lots of breaks — snow is very heavy.
  • Afterward: Stretch and continue to stretch for the next several days.

About this Experts Contributor: Marsha Seidelman, M.D., has been in practice for more than 25 years, providing medical and pulmonary care in Silver Spring, Maryland.  She is one of the founders of the online health resource

As of December 2, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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