Snow removal is one of the common causes of injury during the winter months. All that bending and lifting of heavy snow can put you at serious risk for injury, in addition to placing undue stress on your heart. More than 203,000 people were treated in 2014 for injuries resulting from shoveling snow, according to the National Institutes of Health, citing figures from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Lower back injuries and injuries resulting from falls are the most common shoveling-related issues, according to Deborah Shepherd, director of emergency departments for Porter Health Care System. Shoveling, she says, "can be extremely dangerous as there are patches of black ice sometimes under the snow that (people) don’t or can’t see."
Keep these three guidelines in mind when shoveling, to care for injuries or avoid them altogether:
Remember, shoveling is exercise. Before clearing snow, do some light stretching or calisthenics to warm up your muscles. Get your blood moving with a brisk walk. Then gently stretch your lower back or hamstrings to get them ready to move.
Don't be fooled by fluffy snow. It may look light, but you'll feel the burn when pushing it around. Take frequent breaks and stop to stretch. If you have a heart condition, Shepherd says, keep in mind your doctor's recommendations for exercise. Shoveling is exercise and requires your heart to work harder.
Know Your Limits
Should anything crunch or crack, or if you experience chest pain, seek treatment right away, Shepherd says. "Know your limitations, know your surroundings before you start shoveling snow or any other strenuous activity out in the cold—and as always, dress warmly!" Rest and ice an injury first. If it persists, head to your local emergency room.