Shoveling in Winter Wonderland

By Christopher Jones, LMT, Worcester Fitness

I was standing on the top of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park this past weekend. It was a sunny and clear afternoon with a reported visibility of about 75 miles. No matter how far the visibility actually was, it was a beautiful view. It was, however, also about 28 degrees and there was a coating of that all too familiar winter malady – snow.

Whether we want to admit it or not, winter is fast approaching. This means that soon the snow will begin to fall and we will all break out the shovels. As with any other seasonal activity, many of us will start scooping and throwing snow without giving much thought to the safety and health of our bodies. People often joke about “weekend warriors” and the injuries that they accumulate for their sporadic physical activity, but this is just as likely for seasonal activities like spring gardening, fall leaf raking, and winter shoveling.

In 2011, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine released the results of a 17-year study detailing the most common health hazards associated with shoveling snow. Some of the results showed that:

• The most common reasons for getting hurt were overworking your muscles, falling, and being hit with the shovel.

• The top injuries were to the soft tissue of the body - muscles, ligaments, and tendon

• The low back was one of the most common areas to be injured.

• In addition to various cuts and scrapes, the arms and hands were the most common areas for bone fractures.

• Although only 7% of snow shoveling injuries were heart-related, all deaths due to snow shoveling were caused by heart problems. Individuals over the age of 55 were 4.25 times more likely to have heart-related symptoms while shoveling.

Those findings are sufficient to encourage all of us to think about our health and safety when it comes to shoveling snow. If you are healthy enough to head out and tackle the snow, consider these guidelines from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:

• Warm up with some light exercise first.
• Wear slip-resistant footwear.
• Shovel at a sustainable pace and take frequent breaks.
• Instead of lifting the snow, try to push the snow out of the way.
• Avoid throwing the snow over your shoulder or to the side to avoid twisting.

To those guidelines, I would also suggest staying hydrated while shoveling, wearing adequate clothing for the weather, and making sure your shovel is of the proper size and in good repair. Also, if you have a heart condition, an injury, or aren’t someone who regularly engages in exercise, this may be the time to get to know that family down the street who has teenagers in need of some extra cash. There is no shame in preventing an injury.

A lot of fun can be had in the snow. Shoveling can also be an extra bit of physical activity to add to your winter activity plans. If you question your readiness for show shoveling, consult with one of our trainers for an evaluation and a plan to get you ready. Perhaps even try an Advanced Therapeutic Stretching (ATS) session to really prime your body for action! If, however, it is already too late and shoveling has gotten the best of you, our massage therapists are available to aid you in pain relief and rehabilitation.

Winter is a wonderful season, and no one needs to spend it hurt over a bit of snow. So let’s be smart about it, let’s be safe, and let’s get outside!

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