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Quick Tips for Safer Snow-Shoveling

Holiday carolers may be singing, "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow," but anyone who's responsible for shoveling their winter wonderland may be more apt to groan in anticipation of pulling out the shovels this year.

Shoveling snow can be more than just a pain in the neck, however; it can be the source of a variety of injuries, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

"Shoveling is a rigorous aerobic activity that places great physical demands on the body," says Dr. Garth Russell, an orthopaedic surgeon in Columbia, Mo.

To help shovelers reduce their injury risk, the AAOS issued several snow-safety guidelines:


  • Shovel early and often. Newly fallen snow is lighter than heavily packed or partially melted snow. Before you begin shoveling, warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.


  • Push the snow instead of lifting it. Keep the shovel close to your body. Space your hands on the shovel. It increases your leverage.


  • If you must lift the snow, lift it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine.

    Never remove deep snow all at once; do it piecemeal. Shovel an inch or two, then take another inch off. Rest, and repeat if necessary.


  • Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This action requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.


  • See what you are shoveling. Do not let a hat or scarf block your vision. Watch out for ice patches and uneven surfaces. Avoid falls by wearing shoes/boots that have slip-resistant soles.


  • Use a shovel that feels comfortable for your height and strength. Avoid a shovel that is too heavy or too long.


  • Pace yourself. Shoveling snow is an aerobic activity, comparable to weightlifting. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration, which affects muscles.


  • Check with your doctor. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, talk with your doctor before shoveling. If necessary, hire someone to remove the snow.

The potential for musculoskeletal injury is high among inexperienced snow-shovelers, as well as those who have shoveled so many times during the winter that they don't bother to think about snow safety, AAOS noted.

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