Smart shoveling may avoid injuries to heart and back

Posted Feb. 01, 2011, at 9:03 p.m.

Winter has a firm grip on us this year with several huge storms blanketing the state and no end in sight. Snow may look beautiful when the large flakes are falling, but this winter wonderland has lost its charm for many people.

Clip this column and give it a read-through before you head out again to clear away the white stuff. By now you may be an expert at shoveling but the banks are high and there is less room to put the snow, which forces you to be creative about what to do with it.

Proper snow shoveling techniques can reduce your risk for back injury or a heart attack.

First of all, you should face the snow you’re about to shovel and always keep your back straight, your knees bent, and throw the snow forward.

Don’t throw snow over your shoulder because twisting while throwing snow behind you can cause back strain. In fact, experts recommend that you push the shovel to move the snow and avoid lifting whenever possible. This will be tricky as you may be out of room, but heed the advice as best you can or find someone with a snow-blower to help.

Here are some other tips to help you survive the shoveling season:

  • If you have a history of heart trouble, always get your doctor’s permission before picking up a shovel and heading out.
  • Take it very slow and easy and pace yourself. Shoveling is like lifting weights and can cause a rise in your blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Shovel only fresh, powdery snow as it is much easier than the wet, packed-down variety. While we have no control over what kind of snow needs to be shoveled, if it is not light and fluffy, hire someone to remove it. Don’t risk your health.
  • If you get tired — stop. This is not the time to muscle through it. And if you feel pain or tightness in your chest, definitely stop and contact your physician.
  • Pick a shovel that is just right for you. By getting one with a smaller blade, you will lift less snow and consequently put less strain on your body.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after shoveling. Breathing cold air dehydrates the body.
  • Tackle heavy snow in two stages. Begin by skimming off the snow from the top, and then remove the bottom layer. Avoid overloading the shovel.
  • Don’t smoke or eat a large meal before shoveling.
  • This may seem like common sense but you’d be surprised how often it goes unheeded. Dress warmly, wear layers which traps air between them, retaining heat. Wear a hat and scarf. Forty percent of body heat is lost through the head.
  • To help prevent injury, stand with your feet about hip-width apart and keep the shovel close to your body. Remember to bend from the knees, not the back, and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Don’t twist, tempting though it may be. If you need to move the snow to one side, reposition your feet to face the direction the snow will be going.

There you have it. The next time a storm is forecast, which will probably be soon, you’ll be ready. But be careful out there. It only takes a minute to get injured, but often months to recover.

Remember, if possible think about hiring someone to shovel for you. It may cost less than you think and ensures you won’t get hurt. Plus, you are giving someone a job in this weak economy. My personal plow guy is worth his weight in gold.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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