Have you heard?
“Nor’easter to shut down travel, unleash blizzard conditions in at least 7 states”
Did you know that shoveling snow results in an average of 11,500 injuries per year and nearly 100 deaths (4)?
Snow shoveling is not your average household chore. It is strenuous exercise, requiring lifting shovelfuls of snow, that can weigh up to 30 pounds, in freezing temperatures. On average, 400-600 calories can be burnt per hour shoveling snow. While this is a great form of exercise and a good way to switch up monotonous routines it effects homeowners of every kind. There are many people who stay “in shape” throughout the year, and there are many who don’t. According to the CDC, 80% of Americans adults do not get the recommended amount of exercise per week (3). Given this information, large snow storms are essentially drawing out thousands of “weekend warriors.”
A seventeen year study from 1990-2006, published in the January 2011 issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, broke down the distribution of injuries with the most common being:
- 55% were soft tissue injuries
- 16% were laceration injuries
- 7% were fractures
The most frequently injured regions included:
- 34% low back injuries
- 16% arm/hand injuries
- 15% head injuries
Most frequent cause of snow shoveling related injuries:
- 54% acute musculoskeletal exertion (sprains, strains, disc herniations, etc.)
- 20% slip and fall
- 15% struck by a snow shovel (I’m curious as to how this happens)
- 7% cardiac-related injuries (most serious!)
Given this information, sitting inside until the snow melts doesn’t seem like that bad of an idea right? As tempting as that idea can be let’s address some ways to prevent potential snow-shoveling injuries.
Cardiac Risk Tips and Prevention
In cold temperatures your blood vessel constrict, ensuring that your major organs are receiving proper blood supply. This results in an increase in blood pressure. Due to this, it is important to make sure that you are dressed properly when heading outside to shovel. Dressing warmly conserves body heat, preventing vessel constriction and decreasing the spike in blood pressure. Be sure to layer up! Also, be sure your feet, hands and head are covered.
Take 10 minutes to warm up! As I mentioned earlier, shoveling snow is considered strenuous exercise. You wouldn’t skip a warm-up at the gym or prior to a sporting event. This warm-up can be as simple as jogging in place or running up and down the stairs a few times. Stretching can be beneficial as well. Avoid static stretching (stretching at rest; your standard stretch and hold for 30 seconds, this type of stretch is more beneficial post-exercise). Dynamic stretching (meaning you are moving while you stretch) would be more beneficial. For example, arm swings across your chest, arm circles, swinging your leg forward and backwards (one at a time, hold on to something to prevent falling), lunges, squats, wrist circles, etc. The goal is to put your muscles and joints through range of motion without exceeding their limits, to properly warm up and prepare for exercise.
Pace yourself! It’s not a race to see who clears their driveway first. Taking your time and taking breaks as needed can help keep your heart rate down. The act of snow shoveling alone is already stressful on the heart, with the static lifting in cold temperatures. There is no need to add the extra stress of speed. Avoid the tough guy attitude thinking you’re going to go out there and be a snow plow. Lift smaller loads!
Know the warning signs of a cardiac event:
- Pain or pressure in the chest
- Numbness or tingling in the neck or arms
- Cold sweat
- Shortness of breath
With low back injuries being the most prevalent, proper lifting technique is key! Avoid lifting when it’s possible. Pushing snow is better for your back. Be sure to keep the shovel close to your body with the handle at about hip level as you push. When you do have to lift, use a staggered stance rather than parallel, and use your knees. As you bend from the knees, lift with your legs while keeping your back straight.
A good rule of thumb is to toss the snow where your toes are facing, this prevents excessive twisting and rotation. Avoid the tempting action of throwing snow over your shoulder and step into the direction you are throwing (6). Furthermore, carry snow loads to lower piles to avoid straining to heave the snow on a high pile. Avoid tossing the snow with your arms outstretched; this, places a lot of the weight and stress on your spine. Be sure to walk to the pile.
Alternate! Most people have tendencies to favor their strong side. However, if all the stress of shoveling is placed on one side of the body, muscular imbalance and decreased flexibility can occur, increasing the potential risk for injury. Think of it as if you were in the gym lifting weights, would you only perform bicep curls with your right arm? I don’t think so. So switch it up…5 tosses to the right and 5 to the left. Be sure you also alternate which leg is leading your staggered stance (2)!
Does the type of shovel make a difference? Simply put, yes. Let’s break it down a bit.
The weight of the shovel is something that you can assess when deciding what kind of shovel to purchase. The lighter the better! Try to avoid extra weight, wood and metal shovels. Look for shovels with a fiberglass shaft. Be sure that the length of the shovel fits you. With the blade on the ground the handle of the shovel should come to about chest level. The length of the shovel is important in avoiding back strain, anything shorter than chest height could result in potential injury.
Scoop shape matters! Given that we are looking at a potential blizzard, the deep scoop shape will help clear snow faster and is better for lifting loads. The scoops that have a slight bend are more for pushing light accumulations of snow. To increase the life of your purchase, look for a shovel with the metal strip across the bottom of the scoop, it can prevent the plastic scoop from breaking.
Is the ergonomic shovel better? It can be. It significantly decreases the excessive forward flexion of the trunk while lifting, protecting your back. However, it can put more stress on your wrists. To prevent excessive stress on your wrists while tossing the snow, follow the instructions above, regarding walking to the pile and tossing the snow in the direction your toes are facing. Also in cases, where the snow is sticking inside of the scoop, use some cooking spray!
Be sure to plan ahead and set goals for your shoveling endeavors this week! Clear only what needs to be cleared. The low priority areas can melt on their own. Also, set a schedule to go out frequently rather than waiting until all the snow has fallen. Be sure to avoid slips and falls by wearing shoes or boots that have adequate traction and use smaller, shuffling type steps.
In conclusion: warm up, shovel, cool down, and repeat. Above all, listen to your body!
1.Borenstein, S. (2016, January 20). East Coast, Ohio Valley brace for possible big snowstorm. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://news.yahoo.com/east-coast-ohio-valley-brace-possible-big-snowstorm-185932011.html?soc_src=copy
3. Jaslow, R. (2013, May 3). CDC: 80 percent of American adults don’t get recommended exercise. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cdc-80-percent-of-american-adults-dont-get-recommended-exercise
4. New National Study Finds 11,500 Emergency Department Visits, Nearly 100 Deaths Related to Snow Shoveling Each Year. (2011, January 17). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/news-room-articles/new-national-study-finds-11500-emergency-department-visits-nearly-100-deaths-related-to-snow-shoveling-each-year?contentid=86424
5. Shovels: The Scoop on the Best Bet for You. (2015). 1(80), 18-18. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from Corporate ResourceNet.
6. Wheeler, T. (2007, February 14). If you shovel, do so carefully: Heed agencies’ advice on how to avoid heart attack or back injury. Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-159300436.html?