Prevent injuries while shoveling this season

Posted Jan. 10, 2011, at 7:47 p.m.
Kevin DiDonato
Kevin DiDonato

Shoveling snow is hard work. In addition to causing minor aches and pains, shoveling can seriously injure muscles in your back, legs and shoulders. Even worse, the sudden strain of shoveling snow is responsible for many winter heart attacks.

A little preparation can go a long way to making this winter task more enjoyable and less dangerous. Here are some tips for smart shoveling this season.

Talk to your doctor: If you have heart-related risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or if you have had a heart attack, you should ask your provider if winter shoveling is safe for you.

Warm up: A warm-up can include marching, walking or running in place, jumping jacks and stretching. These activities raise the heart rate, bringing blood flow to the muscles and preparing them to work. Stretching helps by making the muscles more flexible and less prone to injury.

Stay hydrated: Cold weather can prevent us from feeling thirsty. Dehydration places extra stress on the body making all our systems work harder. Make a point of drinking extra water during cold-weather activities.

Lighten the load: Using a smaller shovel lessens the stress on your back, legs and heart.

Use your legs: Use the squat-lift method, just like you would when lifting a heavy box. Lift with your legs to prevent pressure from transferring to your lower back and injuring the muscles there.

Avoid twisting: Twisting is hard on your lower back. Instead of lifting and twisting to throw the snow, push it in front of you and lift only a small amount.

Dress warmly: Cold weather constricts your blood vessels, making the heart work harder to pump the blood to the body. Dress in layers and stay warm.

Rest frequently: Take your time, rest frequently and allow your heart rate and blood pressure to stabilize. You have all the time in the world, so shovel smarter and rest more.

Stop if you feel pain: If you feel pressure or pain in your chest, stop work immediately, rest inside for five minutes then try again. If there is any pain or discomfort the second time, stop and contact your doctor right away or go to your local emergency room.

Shoveling in the winter can be a healthful and enjoyable form of physical activity. Be smart about shoveling, listen to your body and stop if you feel pain or discomfort.

Kevin DiDonato is a professional health educator and a certified personal trainer. His home-based business, Human Performance Lab in Ellsworth, provides private and semiprivate fitness training, nutrition counseling, boot camp training, and private or group Pilates classes.

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