The cold and snow are not just an inevitable inconvenience of winter, but pose the risk of injury, too.
Brian P. Krebs, a physical therapist with the North Shore-LIJ Rehabilitation Network, said anyone stuck with the shoveling or snow-blowing duties should take precautions to reduce risk of injury.
“First and foremost, it’s the back,” he said of common injuries, explaining that bending and twisting combined with lifting a weighted object far away from your body increases the likelihood of hurting yourself.
“Like the old adage goes, ‘you want to make sure you’re lifting with the legs and not your back,’ ” he said.
To combat the stress load on your body, Krebs suggests using an ergonomic shovel with a bent handle or a push-shovel that has wheels attached and allows the user to just push snow to the side, rather than lifting it.
Knowing your limits is also important. “Somebody who’s generally an inactive person is at a higher risk [for injury],” Krebs said.
But injuries are not the only risk, as overexertion during snow cleanup can also lead to a heart attack.
Dr. David Friedman, the chief of heart failure services at Franklin Hospital, warned against strenuous activity, like snow shoveling, for people with a cardiac history.
He explained that these activities, coupled with the frigid weather, “can lead to increasing levels of blood pressure, adrenaline-like hormone release in the body ... which can all then lead to constriction or tightening of coronary arteries.”
More often than not, Friedman said, it is better to be safe than sorry.
“If you have risk factors for heart disease ... you are probably best served by not overexerting at all when it comes to snow shoveling especially," he said.
To avoid injuries while shoveling snow, Krebs offers the following simple tips:
- Bend your knees.
- Keep abdominal muscles tight.
- Avoid the bending and twisting.
- Take lighter loads with the shovel, layering it (¼ or ½ at a time).
- Push the snow if you can, don’t lift.
- Take breaks and stretch.
- For longer-duration storms, try to shovel every couple of inches, rather than waiting to shovel all at once at the end. This will reduce the physical toll shoveling takes on your body.
- Keep your general activity level in mind so as not to overexert yourself.