SNOW CAN BE MAGICAL AND FUN, but if you've ever had to clear it, you know it can also be a pain—in the shoulders, arms, hands, back, and chest. Every year, emergency rooms, doctors' offices, and clinics treat more than 56,000 injuries, from broken bones to heart attacks, caused by snow removal, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most people don't think about safety or warming up before shoveling, notes William N. Levine, M.D., associate director at the Center for Shoulder, Elbow, and Sports Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. "It's a potentially dangerous activity—have a healthy respect for it." Prior to shoveling, spend 10 minutes jogging in place and stretching your shoulders and back—the spots most vulnerable to injury, suggests Levine. Then follow these tips for pain-free snow removal, and you'll have energy left over for making snow angels.
Go Easy: People underestimate shoveling's potential to raise heart rate, says Levine. If you're sedentary or have hypertension or a family history of heart disease, Levine recommends you get a preseason physical before clearing any snow. And anyone who shovels should take a break every 15 minutes. If you experience chest pain or dizziness, "go inside, take your pulse, and rest," Levine says. Call your doctor or 911 if symptoms persist.
Learn to Push: While shoveling, push the snow whenever possible. If you must lift, prevent back strain by squatting with a straight back rather than bending at the waist. Never throw snow over your shoulder or twist to the side--these motions stress the spine. Instead, turn and face the direction in which you'll be throwing the snow.
Stay Fluid: Drink plenty of water while working. "We don't often think about dehydration in winter, but it happens," says Levine. Even mild dehydration can cause dizziness and fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Shovel image via Shutterstock