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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 1996 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. Check with your doctor if you are at risk for a heart attack before shoveling snow. In 2007, more than 118,000 people were 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 in the same year 16,000 were injured using snow blowers. 


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.
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 epically 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 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. For big jobs, use a snow blower. You can probably borrow it from your neighbor for a nice bottle of wine. You can also hire some laborers to remove the snow for you. I believe the going rate is 25.00 per hour.



The technique

Begin shoveling slowly and with a smaller load to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart 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.  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 then 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.  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 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.

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