Senior Beat

Proper snow shoveling techniques reduce injury risk

Posted Jan. 24, 2014, at 4:19 p.m.
To avoid back injury or strain or heart trouble, use proper techniques when shoveling snow this winter.
Steve Mason | Getty Images
To avoid back injury or strain or heart trouble, use proper techniques when shoveling snow this winter.

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

By now you may be an expert at shoveling, but the banks are high and there are fewer places 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, however 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 puts 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.

Now this may seem like common sense but you’d be surprised how often it goes unheeded. Dress warmly and wear layers which trap air between them, providing heat. And 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. Again, 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.

And 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.

Note: Eastern Area Agency on Aging has vouchers to be used to purchase a winter coat at Goodwill stores. Anyone 50 years old or older who needs a warm coat may get a voucher by stopping in to Eastern Area Agency on Aging, 450 Essex St., Bangor, or by calling 941-2865 and requesting that one be mailed. The Coats for Seniors project is a partnership of LL Bean and the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging. The maximum cost for the coat cannot exceed $30. The vouchers expire April 1.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of community education at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free (800) 432-7812, or log on EAAA.org.

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