"This year, many residents of Northeast Pennsylvania were shoveling snow before carving pumpkins — and I’m sure it’s not over yet.
Much has been written about the dangerous effects of snow shoveling on your heart. And certainly heart attacks are more common after a heavy snow. However, while not fatal, lower-back pain is the most common injury suffered while shoveling snow.
Snow shoveling can place excessive stress on the structures of the spine. When overloaded and overstressed, these structures fail to support the spine properly. The lower back is at great risk of injury when you’re bending forward, twisting, lifting a load, or lifting a load with a long lever. When all these factors are combined, as in snow shoveling, the lower back is destined to fail. Lower-back pain from muscle strain or a herniated disc is very common after excessive shoveling.
Shoveling as exercise
■ Good for the young and healthy. Studies show that snow shoveling for 15 minutes is considered moderate physical activity; beyond 15 minutes, it’s considered extreme and vigorous physical activity, even for young, healthy college students.
■ Bad for the older and unfit. Research clearly shows there is a significant increase in heart attacks among snow shovelers. If you do not exercise regularly, consult your physician.
■ Cold weather makes this activity even more difficult and physically stressful. Cold air makes breathing more labored and difficult, creating added strain on the body.
Those at high risk of injury or illness from snow shoveling include: anyone with a history of heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol; smokers; people who are overweight or have a sedentary lifestyle; and the elderly.
Tips for safe shoveling
■ Medical clearance: If you have a medical condition or risk factor, consult your physician.
■ Pain: Stop immediately if you experience any pain, especially in the chest, left arm, jaw, face, neck or lower back.
■ Ergonomics: Choose a snow shovel that’s right for you.
■ Push: When possible, push the snow; don’t lift it. Lifting is much more stressful on the spine.
■ Warm up: Be sure your muscles are warm before you start to shovel. Cold, tight muscles are more likely to strain than warm, relaxed muscles. Wearing a compression shirt or tights (Under Armour) can help prevent cold, tight muscles.
■ Leverage: When you grip your shovel, spread your hands at least 12 inches apart. This will improve your leverage and reduce back strain.
■ Technique: The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends: squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight; lift with your legs (don’t bend at the waist); scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel, and walk when you want to dump it; do not hold the filled shovel with outstretched arms; if snow is deep, remove it piecemeal, a few inches at a time; move your feet and do not twist your back as you shovel or dump snow; never throw snow over your shoulder." (Continued via The Times-Tribune) [Ergonomics Resources]