By Gina Formica, DPT, Director, The Becoming Center at Artman
Tis the season for bad weather and snow to shovel. This task alone sends over 11,000 adults to the hospital every year. The most common issues are back strain and sprains, followed by broken bones, head injury and more severely, heart attack. Shoveling snow is slippery business and you need to take certain steps to make sure that you are not adding to the statistics. Here are some helpful hints to keep you healthy this shoveling season:
Preventing Back Sprain & Strain: Use good body mechanics
• Keep your back straight- don’t bend over the pick up the snow
• Bend your knees to lift- the large muscle groups in your thighs (the Quadraceps) and buttocks (the Gluteal muscles) should be doing the majority of the work during shoveling.
• Keep a wide base of support- it is important to stay balanced while lifting. The surface will already be wet and slippery, reduce your risk of slipping with the weight of the snow in your arms by keeping your feet in a wider than normal stance
• Tighten your abdominal muscles prior to lifting the load- this will create a natural brace for your back and support the spine
• Test the load- All snow is not created equal, snow weight can vary depending on its liquid content, and so one shovel full of wet snow can be much heavier than a shovel full of dry snow. Also, if the snow is deep, remove it in levels; test the weight of the snow to see what you can manage.
• Never twist- your lower back, or lumbar spine, biomechanically does not permit large amounts of rotation, therefore, when lifting the snow it is important to move your feet to turn and dump the snow rather than lifting and twisting. Although this will lengthen the process you will do yourself a favor in the end.
Preventing slip and falls leading to broken bones and head injuries
• Wear appropriate clothing and footwear- it is important to not only stay warm while out shoveling snow, it is important to wear boots with tread to reduce the risk of falls
• Use rock salt as you go- Make sure that once an area is cleared of snow that you follow with rock salt to prevent the wet surface from freezing under you. It can also give you some traction to stand and shovel on.
• Seek immediate medical attention when falling and striking your head- many head injuries are minimized because people do not always lose consciousness. It is important to seek medical attention if you have sustained a significant blow to the head, regardless of loss of consciousness.
Preventing Heart Attack-
• Seek Medical Approval- those who have a history of heart disease, have had a heart attack in the past, or typically lead an inactive lifestyle should check with their physician prior to engaging in strenuous activity such as shoveling snow.
• Pace Yourself- Remember that shoveling snow can put a significant strain on the heart. Take breaks when necessary just as you would when doing other strenuous tasks.
• Stay Hydrated- keeping the body hydrated helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And, it helps the muscles remove waste so that they can work efficiently.
• Cover your mouth & nose with a scarf or mask- breathing in cold air can cause the muscles around the air tubes in your lungs to get tighter and it narrow the passageway for the air to get through. It is best to breathe through your nose to heat up the air before it gets to your lungs, but also covering your nose and mouth can assist in warming up the air.
• Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack- if you experience signs or symptoms of a heart attack, seek medical intervention immediately
o Pressure in the chest
o Pain down the left arm
o Jaw pain
o Pain between your shoulder blades
o Shortness of breath
If you have questions about shoveling snow safely, or are interested in working with a personal trainer to improve your strength and fitness contact the Becoming Center at 215-643-9908.
Picture taken at the Village at Penn State