Winter in Michigan conjures images of snow covered pine trees, skiing, sledding and snowmobiling. But with all of that snowy goodness comes the nasty winter conditions we all know and hate: frigid temperatures, sunless days, snow and ice! Every Michigander dreads the first big snow in anticipation of having to remove it from driveways and sidewalks.
Each year, numerous injuries occur while snow shoveling. While the most serious are heart related conditions, orthopedic injuries occur as well, including fractured wrists from slip-and-fall accidents on slick surfaces, rotator cuff strains and lower back injuries. These injuries can often be prevented by using proper technique and a healthy dose of common sense. Most people wouldn’t consider snow shoveling to be a form of exercise, but it most certainly is! Studies have shown that heavy snow shoveling demands just as much from the heart muscle as a treadmill stress test—which is considerably more difficult than the average aerobic exercise routine.
It is important to be realistic about snow removal sessions and limit the time involved shoveling. If your body is not used to routinely exercising 30-60 minutes a day, then shoveling should be no different. To achieve this, shoveling should be done in increments; shovel early and shovel often. By doing shorter, more frequent shovel runs, the amount of snow that needs to be moved is kept to a minimum, allowing you to push the snow rather than lift and throw it. This also keeps the snow from freezing or partially melting and becoming harder to remove.
Perhaps most importantly, the signs of heart dysfunction should be taken very seriously. Chest discomfort, persistent shortness of breath or excessive sweating could all be signs of a potentially serious heart condition. If you experience any of these side effects while shoveling, you should cease activity immediately and seek medical advice from your primary care provider.
- Dress properly for the weather conditions. Wear layers of clothing so that clothes can be removed as your body temperature increases.
- Take frequent rest breaks.
- Use proper equipment, including winter boots (for better footing on slippery surfaces) and shovels designed specifically for snow removal.
- Push the snow, don’t lift it! You should only be throwing snow (with a shovel) if you absolutely need to. Pushing the snow is always the better option. If you do have to lift, be sure to use proper lifting techniques. Use the stronger, larger muscles in your legs for power as opposed to your back muscles when lifting shovelfuls of snow.
- Don’t throw snow over your shoulder or to the side as it is more likely to cause injury. Your back will be less tolerant of rotation than straight-ahead movements.