Ask A Doc: Preventing snow shoveling injuries

by David Cywinski

Q: How can I prevent injury when snow shoveling?

A:   There are numerous steps you can take before and during shoveling that can help prevent injury.

  Get warm and stay warm: It is important to stretch and warm up before going out to shovel. Stretching is important for flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention. Warm up is different and can be accomplished by walking in place for several minutes. Warm up results in improved blood flow to your muscles, increased body temperature, and increased heart rate which results in less injuries. Make sure you stay warm once your outside by wearing proper clothes.  When it’s windy outside, make sure to cover up exposed skin to prevent hypothermia.

  Pace yourself: Take your time! Snow falls frequently and often in large amounts in our region. It isn’t uncommon for you to have to repeat the shoveling process in the same day. Take frequent breaks and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids.

  Use the right equipment: Make sure your shovel is comfortable for your height and strength. To increase leverage, space your hands out on the handle when you grip. Sometimes spraying your shovel with a light cooking oil or WD-40 can help prevent snow from sticking to it.

  Use a safe technique:

  Push the snow instead of lifting it. If you do lift it, squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Make sure to use your legs and not bend at the waist.

  Remove snow in parts and not all at once.  Walk it over to where you want to dump it.

  The heavier the snow, the less you should put on the shovel at one time.

  Don’t throw it over your shoulder or to the side because the twisting motion puts stress on your back.

  Don’t hold a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched because it puts stress on your spine.

Most importantly, if while you are shoveling and you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, stop the activity and seek emergency care immediately.