The dos and don’ts of shoveling snow

Guest post by Dr. Andrew deBethune, DC, Lynch Chiropractic Arts Center

Dr. deBethune shoveling

Dr. Andrew deBethune (before it started to snow!)

For many of us, shoveling our driveway and walkways will be the most physically demanding activity we do all year. With winter almost officially here, it’s a great time to review good snow shoveling habits.

Proper mechanics for shoveling

Our back is most vulnerable when flexed and rotated together. When this is repeated with a heavy load, our low back muscles get tired, creating the perfect storm for lower back injury.

To avoid placing excessive stress on the spine while shoveling, do this:

  • Dr. Andrew deBethune demonstrates shovelingTake an athletic stance with feet staggered and shoulder width apart.
  • When bending forward and lifting, bend at the hip and knee, keeping the spine straight and chest up.
  • Avoid twisting the spine while throwing the snow. Instead, pivot your feet and turn your whole body. A good rule of thumb is to have your hips and eyes facing whatever direction you’re throwing snow.
  • Plan your best approach for clearing snow. Pushing snow is less taxing on the low back than lifting and throwing it.
  • Wear boots with a good grip to avoid slips and falls that can result in injury.
  • Don’t fill the shovel, especially with a wet and heavy snow.

Take your time and be deliberate, there is no winner in the race to hurting your low back.

Increased risk of a heart attack related to snow shoveling

As I said, shoveling snow may be one of the more taxing things you do, especially if you have a relatively sedentary lifestyle. If you have a history of cardiovascular disease and being sedentary, think about taking steps to avoid shoveling altogether.

If you are at risk for a heart attack and must clear snow, please consider the following:

  • Warm up slowly and take your time with frequent short breaks.
  • Track your heart rate while shoveling with a Fitbit, Garmin or another device.

According to the American Heart Association, your maximum heart rate is 220 beats per minute (bpm) minus your age and the recommended target heart rate zone for exercise is between 50% – 85% of your max heart rate. For example, if you are 65 years of age, your max heart rate would be 155bpm and your target zone 77-131bpm.

Typically, you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising at a comfortable heart rate. If you have a history of cardiovascular disease, consult your doctor about what your safe target heart rate is.

You should always avoid stimulants such as caffeine and cigarettes before shoveling. Using these products increases your heart rate and blood pressure putting you at further risk for a cardiovascular event.

The holiday season is fast upon us and it is a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends. Don’t let shoveling improperly derail your holidays and dampen your spirit!

Stay safe and healthy!

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.