It may look light and fluffy, but shoveling snow can be risky for many people. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports each year there are about 11,500 people in the United States treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to snow shoveling.
There’s also a risk of death by shoveling. Nationwide, snow shoveling is responsible for 100 deaths each year.
The American Heart Association says snow shoveling can actually put people at risk of a heart attack. After being sedentary for several months, and then moving heavy snow, can put a strain on your heart.
The cold weather also can increase heart rate and blood pressure, even in healthy people.
Here's what to remember when you head outside to shovel your driveway and sidewalks this winter:
- Be sure your shovel has a curved handle which lets you keep your back straighter when shoveling.
- Shovel with an appropriate length handle. The length is correct when you can slightly bend your knees, flex your back 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands at the start of the "shoveling stroke."
- A plastic shovel blade will generally be lighter than a metal one, putting less strain on your spine.
- Sometimes a smaller blade is better. Even though a small blade can't shovel as much, you avoid trying to pick up a too heavy pile of snow.
If you lift the snow, lift it properly. Here are some tips from The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:
- 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 to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovel of snow with your arms outreached puts too much weight on your spine.
- Remember to move your feet rather than twisting
Just because you traded in your snow shovel for a snow blower, doesn't mean you're off the hook from playing it safe. Here are a few reminders:
- If the blower jams, turn it off
- Keep your hands away from moving parts
- Be aware of possible carbon monoxide risks if your snow blower is in an enclosed space
- Never add fuel when it is running
- Never add fuel while the machine is inside
- Don’t leave the machine unattended when it’s running
And finally, if you feel pain at any time, stop shoveling or snow blowing.
As you're cleaning up after a snowstorm, remember the most important thing you can do is protect your health.