Monday, January 07, 2013


Enjoy New England's winter, but beware of snow shoveling dangers

Snow in New England is picturesque and makes winter special, but I always feel a little sadness when it starts to accumulate.  Many years ago, my father suffered a heart attack and died immediately after shoveling our long driveway by hand. He had just celebrated his 59th birthday and thought he was in good health. You can bet that I convinced my husband to buy a snowblower as soon as we became homeowners in New England. 
In the effort to help other families and avoid the heartache our family and others have endured, I offer some safety information.  Approximately 16,500 people are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms for injuries that happened while shoveling or removing ice and snow manually, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission,

All that bending and heavy lifting can put men or women at serious risk for injury. Snow removal can be especially dangerous if you do not exercise regularly.

First and foremost, check with your doctor. Because this activity places high stress on the heart, you should always seek your doctor’s advice and approval before shoveling or snow blowing. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove the snow.  Take it from me: the cost will be well worth it when you consider the alternative.

The American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons has some tips for snow shoveling:

•  Warm-up your muscles. Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin this physical workout, warm-up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.

•  Pace yourself. Snow shoveling and snow blowing are aerobic activities. Take frequent breaks and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, stop the activity and seek emergency care immediately. I suggest keeping your cell phone in your pocket when outside shoveling.

•  Proper equipment. Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Space your hands fairly wide on the tool grip to increase your leverage.

•  Proper lifting. Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, do it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once. Do it in pieces.

•  Safe technique. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back. 

Observe these snow removal safety tips, make some snow angels, and then sit back and enjoy the beauty of snow in New England!

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at   

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