University of Pennsylvania Health System

Penn Health and Wellness

Monday, January 20, 2014

Snow Shoveling Safety Tips

It didn’t take long for the first snowstorm of 2014 to hit. And, if the forecasters are correct, it surely won’t be the last of the season. While shoveling snow can prove to be a great workout, it can pose health issues if not done properly and if certain warning signs are ignored.

Put Less Pressure on your Back

Shoveling snow can be a real pain. The lower back is the most frequently injured part of the body during snow-shoveling. Musculoskeletal tissue, which supports the body’s bone structure, can become damaged by overexertion or overuse. Some tips to alleviate strain on your back.
    Snow Shoveling Tips
  • Pick a shovel that you feel comfortable with. Shovels that are too large or heavy will force you into unnatural body movements. Be sure to use the tool grip to enhance your leverage.
  • Avoid shovels made from steel as added weight forces you to bend and twist, which could result in spinal injury.
  • Rather than lifting the snow, try to push it in front of you. If you do lift, be sure to lift with your legs. Make sure you squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight.
  • Don’t try shoveling the biggest scoops of snow possible. Shovel in small amounts.
  • Walk to where you want to dump snow. Avoid extending your arms out in order to try dumping snow far away from you. This will add extra strain to your back.
Get more helpful tips to reduce pain while shoveling.

Pace Yourself and Stay Hydrated

Although you may not feel as thirsty as you typically would in the summer, dehydration occurs quickly in cold, dry weather. Some tips on how to pace yourself and stay hydrated:
  • Take frequent breaks and be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try avoiding heavy meals prior to shoveling as digestion puts strain on the heart.
  • Prior to shoveling it is good to warm up your muscles with light stretching.

Pay Attention to Your Breathing and Your Pulse

Shoveling snow is a strenuous exercise that can put undue strain on the heart. Factor in cold air, which constricts the blood vessels and increases blood pressure, and you have a dangerous combination for people with coronary artery disease or other forms of heart disease.

So before you go shovel your walkway or let a loved one shovel their own, take a few moments to review some heart attack symptoms.

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