It’s that time of year again when we break out our shovels and attack our driveways and sidewalks. Freshly fallen snow is beautiful but brings with it a fair amount of work. To be sure, shoveling is one of those necessary evils – but it also comes with various risks. Few recognize the potential dangers associated with this common task. Following are 3 commonly overlooked dangers and how to avoid them.
Three Hidden Dangers to Shoveling
- Risk of heart attack – The American Heart Association says that for many people the combination of colder temps and sudden physical exertion can be deadly. Certain individuals are more at risk for this to occur of course. Some evidence looks at stress hormones morning peak, a time when shoveling is typically performed. This may contribute to the level of risk. People with heart conditions should take precautions but healthy individuals should heed this warning as well. The combination of lifting heavy shovelfuls of wet snow is the type of sudden exertion in cold weather that should be avoided (1).
- Back Pain – The most likely injury to occur from shoveling is a back injury. A study published by Brad Coffiner at Cornell University’s ergonomic department indicated “…when handling heavy snow with a shovel, the L5/S1 disc has been identified as the weakest link in the body segment chain. The most severe injuries and pain are likely to occur in the back region.” 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time with the vast majority of back pain being mechanical in nature (2). This means it is not caused by fracture or underlying pathology. Lifting heavy snow with under-conditioned muscles or muscles not properly warmed up puts you at risk for injury.
- Risk of slips/falls – Snow brings slippery conditions and while focusing on snow removal it’s easy to be sidetracked on where one is stepping. One wrong step on a patch of ice – and down you go! This obviously can cause bruising and soreness, or worse, serious fractures to your bones.
How to Avoid Injury
There are many ways to more safely shovel your snow. The best is to have it done for you! Of course, if you must venture out into the cold – taking precautions is key. First and foremost, prepare your body. Warm-up your muscles for 10-12 minutes. Ensure that your body is prepared before taxing it with the strenuous task of shoveling. Do some light aerobic exercise but also engage your core abdominal muscles to ensure stability while shoveling.
Consider modifying your methods. Pushing the snow is less strenuous to your heart than lifting heavy shovelfuls. Is it time for a snow blower or snow removal service? Consider your footwear and what may better prevent slips and falls on ice.
Applying these tips can help avoid some of the dangers that come with shoveling snow. Stay healthy this holiday season and be healthy for life!
1. Shoveling Snow Health Hazards. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Affiliate/Shoveling-Snow-Health-Hazards_UCM_426562_Article.jsp# (accessed online 12/1/15).
2. Jensen M, Brant-Zawadzki M, Obuchowski N, et al. Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine in People Without Back Pain. N Engl J Med 1994; 331: 69-116.
3. Risks of Snow Shoveling Highlighted in New Study. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/risks-snow-shoveling-stressed-study/story?id=12590482 (accessed online 12/1/15).