How can I avoid hurting myself while shoveling the driveway?

This time of year we all have to shovel.  While the snow may be pretty and glistening, it can be an accident waiting to happen.  It will help if you have been staying active all fall/winter.  But regardless of your activity level, here are some tips for shoveling the drive and NOT getting hurt:
  • Listen to your body.  If you are not used to moving heavy loads, you may need to take breaks as needed.  This will prevent the dreaded heart attack.
  • Make sure you are wearing good shoes/boots with tread on them.  You may even want to purchase the extra ice grips to place on your foot wear so you don't slip and fall. 
  • Make sure you are taking small amounts of snow in the shovel.  The snow may be wet and heavy, straining to move the snow could result in a muscle strain.  So move smaller amounts at a time.
  • Keep your extremities (hands, feet, fingers & toes) warm and dry to prevent any frostbite.  It happens faster than you think it might.
Use these tips and stay safe and healthy this season.
  • Pivot on your toes.  This one is often missed.  People then go out, put large loads of snow in the shovel and twist their back.  This can cause much pain and dysfunction to your back.  So make sure you stay on your toe and pivot so that you don't "throw out your back."
Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
Shoveling snow poses another serious risk this winter season. Soft tissue injuries of ligaments and muscles, especially in the lower back, are common from the heavy lifting, bending and twisting. Broken bones, most commonly in hands and arms, are also seen. Kids can get hurt by running past and getting hit in the head or horsing around in the area while adults are shoveling. If you have heart trouble, just walking in heavy snow or slush when it’s cold can put a significant strain on your heart, let alone shoveling it. People over 55 years of age are 4 times more likely than those younger to have a heart problem when shoveling snow. Studies found only 7% of the injuries seen shoveling were heart related, but for those with a heart condition, all deaths associated with shoveling were due to heart attacks.
Lessen your chances of getting hurt while shoveling snow:

– Pace yourself and take frequent breaks.

– Wear slip-resistant boots and dress accordingly.

– Try pushing the snow as opposed to lifting it or twisting and throwing it over your shoulders.
– It’s important to listen to your body and stop immediately if you get short of breath, start sweating profusely, or have chest pain.

When shoveling snow use your legs to help lift the snow and concentrate on keeping your abdominals tight helping protect your low-back. Also, make sure to wear appropriate clothing, including a hat and gloves. It is equally important to stay dry and wear proper footwear that repels moisture. Lastly, take frequent breaks and listen to your body. Stop shoveling if you feel any chest or back pain, or feel faint or light-headed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.