Safety tips for shoveling snow this winter from the Rehabilitation and Therapy Department at Veterans Memorial Hospital, Waukon

by Amy Robinson, PT
Director, Veterans Memorial Hospital Rehabilitation

In order to avoid hurting the back when shoveling snow from the sidewalk or driveway, be sure to warm up your muscles before you begin. Walk a few minutes or march in place. Stretch the muscles in the arms and legs, because warm muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.

It is also important to pick the appropriate shovel for yourself. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body. Be sure to lift with your legs and not your back. Bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible so that the lifting comes from your leg muscles and keeps the strain off of your back.

Never bend at the waist and step in the direction that you are throwing snow. This will help prevent the lower back from twisting and will help alleviate any back soreness that you might typically experience the day after a hard shoveling job. You may also want to try leaving some space between your hands on the shovel handle. This will give you more leverage and make it easier to lift snow.

If you have a history of heart trouble or are inactive because of chest pain, talk to your doctor before you take on the task of shoveling snow. If your doctor says that it’s alright, try to avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning. These are stimulants which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict, thus placing extra stress on the heart.

It’s also best to drink plenty of water. Dehydration can still be an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer, and dehydration can put added pressure on blood vessels and the heart.

Most importantly, listen to your body. Stop if you feel pain or have any signs or symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain, arm or neck pain, dizziness, fainting, sweating, shortness of breath or the sensation of pressure on the chest. If you begin to notice one or more of these symptoms, stop what you are doing and seek medical attention.

For more information, call the Veterans Memorial Hospital Rehabilitation Department in Waukon at 563-568-3411.