It’s that time of year for those living in snow prone areas who will likely have to break out the shovel and start digging themselves out. As beautiful as a fresh snowfall can look, be careful. In 2015, more than 158,000 people were treated for injuries that occurred while shoveling snow or removing ice. From back sprains and strains, cut and amputated fingers, broken bones from falling, and frostbite, shoveling snow is a potentially risky activity.
It is a good idea to discuss with your doctor if you are physically cleared for shoveling snow. Snow removal by hand is a lot of work and puts a strain on your heart. If you are typically sedentary throughout most of the year, you may want to consider using a snow blower or hiring someone else to remove your snow.
If at any time while shoveling snow you begin to feel chest pain, short of breath or extreme fatigue, stop immediately and get medical attention.
There are several steps one can take to reduce their likelihood of having an injury and keeping themselves safe until spring arrives:
· Dress appropriately. Layering is your best bet to keep yourself warm and dry while working outdoors. Wear layers of light, water-repellant clothing that can be taken off if you get too hot. Avoid wearing heavy wools or manmade materials that don’t allow perspiration to evaporate. Be sure to wear a hat, scarf, thick socks and warm gloves or mittens to keep hands dry and from blistering. Keep your hat and scarf away from your eyes so as not to block your vision.
· Don’t forget proper footwear. Your feet will be in the snow and probably one of the first parts of the body to begin getting chilled. Prevent frostbite by wearing quality outdoor winter wear such as waterproof boots with good traction ensuring you don’t slip and fall.
· Before heading outdoors to begin your job of shoveling, stretch. Shoveling snow is a vigorous physical activity and should be treated as such. By taking 5-10 minutes to stretch before shoveling, your muscles get a chance to warm up plus the stretching will prepare your body for what is coming which can help reduce injury and fatigue.
· Shoveling snow works up a sweat and is a tough workout so it’s a good idea to take breaks often and drink plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration.
· Once snow begins to fall, that is the time to start clearing the snow or ice from sidewalks or driveways. Of course, do not try to keep up with the snowfall it is heavily snowing or a blizzard outside. But if you can, to prevent snow and ice from adhering, start early to prevent having to remove a lot of packed, heavy snow that could result in an injury.
· Choose a snow shovel light enough to lift without difficulty and at a comfortable size for your height. Using a snow shovel that is already heavy and too large will only make your work that much harder and could lead to injury.
· When shoveling, remember to push the snow and try not to lift it. Doing so exerts less energy which places less stress on your body. If you do have to lift snow, use your legs. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Never bend at the waist or hold a shovel of full of snow with outstretched arms putting too much pressure on your spine. Scoop up small amounts of snow and walk it to where you plan to dump it.
· When shoveling near a street, pay attention to your surroundings. It is easy to become very focused on the task at hand and this could put you in danger of being near vehicles traveling by that may not have good traction in the snow or ice.
· Be careful of ice or icy patches. It is very easy to slip and fall if you step on an icy area.