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Shovel Snow Safely

Experts list precautions you can take before you tackle this winter chore

SATURDAY, Dec. 11, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Shoveling snow can be more than a chore; it can be a health hazard if you don't take some basic precautions, warns the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA).

Back injuries, muscle strains, hypothermia and heart attack are among the potential dangers. The CPA offers the following advice for safe shoveling:

  • Before you start shoveling, take time to warm up and stretch your muscles. Warm, relaxed muscles are less likely to suffer strains than cold, tight muscles.
  • Choose the right shovel. A shovel's handle length is right for you when you can slightly bend your knees, bend forward 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands as you begin a shovel stroke. A plastic shovel blade is lighter than a metal one, so it puts less strain on your back. Ergonomic shovels with a bent shaft are better than straight shaft shovels.
  • When you hold the shovel, keep your hands at least 12 inches apart. This increases your leverage and reduces the strain on your body.
  • When you lift snow, squat with your legs apart, bend your knees and keep your back straight. Make sure to lift with your legs and don't bend at the waist. Scoop up small amounts of snow and walk to where you want to dump it. Spraying a lubricant or silicone on your shovel will help prevent snow from clinging to it.
  • Step in the direction that you're throwing the snow. This will prevent twisting in your low back.
  • If there's heavy snow, tackle it in two stages. First, skim off the top layer and then remove the bottom layer. Don't overload your shovel. If you can't say a long sentence in a single breath, you're working too hard. Take a break or reduce the intensity of effort.
  • Take plenty of breaks while you shovel. Every so often, stand up straight and walk around to extend the lower back. Place your hands on the back of your hips and bend backwards slightly for several seconds.
  • Dress properly. Wear mitts, not gloves. Dress in layers. The inner layers of clothing should be made of material that wicks perspiration away from your body. Don't wear cotton. It traps moisture close to your body. Outer layers should be windproof and water-resistant. Wear a scarf and hat to reduce heat loss. Your footwear should have good treads that will prevent slips or falls.
  • If you have any health problems or are in poor shape, don't shovel. Before winter, arrange for someone to clear the snow off your driveway and sidewalks.

More information

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency offers advice about how to prepare for winter storms.

SOURCE: Canadian Physiotherapy Association, news release, December 2004
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