Snow Shoveling Safety 101

Shoveling snow is a necessary yet tiresome nuisance this time of year, and it comes with health risks for many individuals. Each year, more than 11,000 people are injured and approximately 100 people die from shoveling-related events, according to a study from The American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

The risks are real: Snow shoveling can lead to orthopedic injuries and possibly even cardiac events such as heart attacks. River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic is here to help you stay safe.

Heart Attacks and Snow Shoveling

Did you know that wet, heavy snow is often referred to as “heart attack snow”? That’s because removing this type of snow—as opposed to lighter, powdery snow—requires more strength and effort which places more stress on your body.

When it’s cold outside and you’re active, your body naturally reacts in ways that stress the heart: Your blood vessels constrict, and you experience a sudden increase in blood pressure when you begin shoveling. If you’re like many people, you may also hold your breath and strain while doing activities involving heavy lifting. Together, all these reactions contribute to the potential for cardiac problems.

People over 40, as well as those who rarely exercise or who live a more sedentary lifestyle, may be more at risk for cardiac issues when shoveling heavy snow. If you fall into these categories, speak with your primary care provider before shoveling snow.

For everyone else, insulate yourself from heart attack risk when shoveling with these three tips.

  1. Shovel later in the day. A heart attack occurs when a blood clot restricts oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart. Your blood is more likely to clot in the mornings, so don’t go straight outside to shovel when you wake up. Instead, wait a little while before starting to shovel. Your risk for clots decreases and the temperature outside often increases as the day goes on.
  2. Warm up first. Walk around the house a little, stretch the muscles you know you’ll be using, and be sure that you feel loose and ready to go. Then warm up literally by wearing the correct clothes for working outdoors in frigid temperatures.
  3. Shovel smarter, not harder. Use a smaller shovel so you’re lifting lighter loads and placing less stress on your body, and take regular breaks. Push snow to the side rather than lifting it directly up.

Even if you use these tips, always be on the lookout for heart attack symptoms. The most common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain, pressure or tightness
  • Pain in your arm(s), jaw, neck, stomach or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

If you suspect you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately and do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Emergency treatment is key in these situations.

Common Snow Shoveling Injuries

Orthopedic injuries—especially lower back injuries caused by strain from lifting heavy loads—are also common when shoveling snow. Fortunately, taking some basic precautions (including several already recommended for protecting your heart) can keep you healthy and uninjured.

  • Stretch and limber up your muscles before going out to shovel.
  • Choose shoes with good traction to prevent falls.
  • Bend at the knees, and lift with your lower body, engaging your core (stomach muscles).
  • Lift smaller loads of snow at a time. This echoes the smaller shovel suggested to reduce heart attack risk.
  • Avoid unnecessary twisting movements. If you need to turn, turn your entire body.

Many injuries can be treated at home, but more serious injuries may require a trip to the urgent care center or emergency room at River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic. Sprains, joint pain or simple back pain can be treated with urgent care services. Head injuries, severe bleeding or broken bones should be treated in the emergency room.

Who Should Not Shovel Snow?

While some people can safely shovel snow simply by taking precautions, others should not shovel snow at all. If you have a personal or family history of heart disease, do not pick up a snow shovel without talking to your primary care provider first. Your provider will be able to help you determine whether you can safely shovel, or if you should reach out to a loved one or hire someone for assistance on snowy days. While a clear driveway and sidewalk is important, it isn’t worth risking your life!

While most injuries can be treated at home or at urgent care, serious injuries and conditions such as heart attacks require emergency treatment. Learn more about River’s Edge Emergency Room services.

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