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  • Writer's pictureDr.Barry Triestman D.C.

Snow Shoveling Article published in the Truckee Sun

The article had to be shortened to be published, this is it before the shortening.


I need to remove my snow without getting hurt. Proper snow shoveling in Truckee and Tahoe to Prevent Injury

The good news is that 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity according to the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health and will burn 408 calories per hour. The bad news is that researchers have reported an increase in the number of heart attacks among snow shovelers after heavy snowfalls. Notably, one-third of the heart attacks occurred the day after a substantial snowfall. In addition they found a “dose response trend” the more it snowed (the deeper the snow, or the more consecutive days it snowed) the higher the incidence of heart attacks. We have received close to 300 inches of snow locally and it is not letting up. So the dose is off the charts and the Tahoe Forest E.R. has seen its share of heart attacks, snowblower and snow shoveling injuries.

Check with your doctor if you are at risk for a heart attack before shoveling snow. More than 158,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, clinics and other medical settings for injuries that happened while shoveling. Do not think that snow blowers are totally safe, every year 15,000 are injured using snow blowers.

And while your working if you get symptoms especially chest discomfort, light headedness, or shortness of breath—just stop what you’re doing. Have loved one take you to the hospital and call 911

General health guidelines

Drink plenty of water, dehydration is just as big an issue in dry cold winter months as it is in the summer.

  • Wear good boots and if it is icy underneath use shoe chains.

  • Spray your shovel with a Teflon spray so snow does not stick. The day before it snows

  • Dress in several layers so you can remove layers as needed.

  • Warm up your muscles before shoveling, by walking for a few minutes or marching

  • in place. Then do some stretching, warm and flexible muscles are less likely to be injured. This is especially important if you are shoveling snow in the morning when our bodies are colder. There is an increased risk of spinal disc injuries in the morning because of this.

The most common injuries that happen from snow shoveling are:

  1. Back injury

  2. Shoulder pain from shoveling snow

  3. Pulled or strained muscles

  4. Injuries caused by falling

Tips for Snow blowing

  • Never stick your hands in the snowblower! If snow jams the snowblower, stop the engine and wait more than 5 seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine has been turned off.

The equipment

The shovel needs to fit the person and be as light as possible. The handle should reach mid chest and have a D handle. The blade should be plastic with a steel edge approximately 16” x 14” in size works best, the smaller the better. Stay away from those enormous grain shovels. As for the ergonomic shovels they are helpful unless your are tall or short. When you are at the store get in the proper shoveling position and see which shovel keeps your spine straightest. The Sno Wovel™ a wheeled snow shovel is designed to greatly reduce the physical strain of shoveling and the related risks of back and heart injuries. We need a pushing shovel and a separate picking up shovel. Try and use a snowblower even for the smallest of jobs. You can probably borrow it from your neighbor for a nice bottle of wine. Or buy one from mountain hardware. I keep hoping that they come out with a robot snowblower like a Roomba for the outdoors, I can’t wait.You can also hire some laborers to remove the snow for you. I believe the going rate is 50.00 per hour or hire a team of neighborhood kids

The technique

Begin shoveling slowly and with a smaller load to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart, shoulder and back. Pace yourself and take breaks as needed. I like to divide the job up into small pieces and rest between them. The job should be broken up to minimize the moving of the snow and maximize breaks and stretching. Don’t forget to have your family come and help you. 67% of snow related injuries are men. Push the snow instead of lifting it. I know as the season progresses we need to do more lifting because of how big our snow banks get. To prevent a back injury we need to lift properly. This is done by having a strong wide base of support. Spread your feet a little wider than hip width. Place one foot in front of the other in a scissor stance. One hand should be close to the bottom of the shaft, the other at the top. The closer your hand is to the blade the less stress on the body the blade is the part of the shovel that holds the snow not the cutting edge. You should switch hands and feet after each pass is cleared this will promote balance in your muscles ligaments and discs. Engage your abdominal muscle and bend with your legs as if you were squatting, keep your spine straight and keep the shovel close to your body. Do not twist or throw the snow, if you need to place the snow to the side reposition your feet to face the direction the snow needs to go. Instead of throwing the snow walk over to the snow bank and place it. Twisting and throwing place an enormous stress on our spines. If we get wetter snow then take smaller scoops. Never remove deep snow all at once. Do it in pieces.

If you get hurt, use snow in a ziploc bag to decrease the inflammation. Apply it for 15-20 minutes per hour. More time is not better. If you are more severely hurt see your doctor of chiropractic, medical doctor or physical therapist.

Dr Barry Triestman is a local Chiropractor, Active Release Technique practitioner in Truckee. He will be doing an internship this summer at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. His website is great resource for health and back related information. He can be reached at 530-550-1688. He also did a video at at Mountain Hardware on snow and snow removal equipment that can be viewed here. The article as published in the Truckee Sun.

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