The right stuff in dealing with the white stuff

Be careful to avoid injuries when dealing with snow.

Snow is beautiful but we don’t want it to linger on our sidewalks and driveways. Removing it can challenge our hearts and backs.

People often try to clear snow shortly after waking when their body chemicals make their hearts prone to attacks. Heavy exertion from shoveling increases blood pressure and cold temperatures cause the body to divert blood flow from the limbs to the torso. These factors create a perfect storm of hazards for your heart.

Here’s what you can do to help reduce your risk:

  • shovel at least an hour after waking,
  • ease into the activity slowly, and
  • take breaks. While it’s tempting to finish it all at once, remember that you can’t shovel from the hospital gurney.
  • Make sure you are well hydrated to cut down on clotting risks,
  • and keep yourself warm with clothing layers, which prevent blood from leaving the limbs.

The spine, particularly the very dynamic discs between the vertebrae, are also at risk when snow shoveling. A fibrous band of meshwork surrounds a liquid center within our discs. The pressure on the discs is least when we preserve the set of curves in the back (that’s what the lumbar supports in cars and chairs fosters). Unfortunately, we tend to go to a flattened or reverse curve in our back when we lift with a snow shovel. Twisting the spine to toss the snow introduces additional stress to the outer fibers of our discs.

To avoid disc problems while shoveling:

  • push the snow as much as practical,
  • keep the load close to your body,
  • scoop while pretending to look up to keep the spine’s natural curve,
  • stretch before you shovel,
  • consider using a snow shovel with a curved handle that lets you load and unload snow with less of a lift distance and,
  • face where you want to throw the snow. Twisting is a bad idea when lifting.
  • Use anti-stick spray or automotive wax on the shovel to prevent heavy clumping with wet, sticky snow.

Hopefully, following these tips will keep you upright as we deal with the late winter white.

— Brian Svazas M.D.