For many parts of the country, winter means snow. It’s beautiful to look at and kids often like to play in it, but it also usually requires shoveling. Snow blowers can help with some of the work, but sometimes you’ll still need a shovel, says Consumer Reports.
But shoveling is not safe for everyone. While some may get a workout shoveling snow, others may be putting themselves at risk. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), anyone 40 or older and those who aren’t routinely active should take extra caution when shoveling.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) notes shoveling snow may cause sprains and strains in the back and shoulders for those not used to lifting the weight. The NSC also suggests that those who have had heart trouble in the past shouldn’t shovel without the OK from a doctor. The American Heart Association says the risk of heart attack can increase while shoveling since cold temperatures and physical labor make the heart work harder.
Those without heart issues or younger, active adults, however, are not necessarily in the clear — they could still get hurt if they don’t utilize proper snow shoveling techniques. To help prevent injury when you head out to clear your driveway or sidewalk, remember these snow shoveling safety tips.
AAOS advises you wear layered clothing that provides insulation, ventilation and resistance to water. For example, you may want to have a moisture-wicking base layer, a fleece and finally, a winter coat, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also keep your head and hands covered and wear heavy socks in slip-resistant boots.
AAOS suggests warming the body up before shoveling snow, much like you would before a workout at the gym. March in place for a couple minutes and stretch your muscles to help reduce the risk of injury, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).
Consider staying ahead of the snow and start shoveling shortly after snow begins falling instead of waiting for it to end to help make the labor less intensive. According to the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA), you should clear your sidewalk or driveway after an inch or two of accumulation so the snow doesn’t freeze and become harder to scrape from the ground.
Consumer Reports recommends lifting with your legs while keeping your back straight. If you keep your hands farther down on the handle of the shovel, the weight of the snow you pick up will feel lighter. When possible, Consumer Reports also says to simply push the snow so you don’t have to lift and throw it, which may put extra stress on your back.
Even though it’s cold outside and you may prefer a cup of hot coffee, SIMA says it’s important to drink plenty of water when you shovel snow. Clearing snow is an intense activity and may even make you break a sweat, so taking frequent water breaks can help you stay hydrated.
Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity, so NATA recommends pacing yourself. You don’t want to burn out too quickly, so NATA suggests stopping to rest and stretch your shoulders and back every five or 10 minutes.
As the American Heart Association notes, no matter your age or physical condition, always pay attention to what your body is saying. Stop shoveling if you feel dizzy, nauseated, short of breath or have pain in your back, arms or shoulders. It may not always be fun to clear your driveway, but by following these snow shoveling tips and techniques, you may be able to do it more safely.
Originally published on December 9, 2014.