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Protect Yourself: Snow Shoveling Tips and Tricks

Speaking on behalf of the Johnson County Hospital, we hope each of you enjoyed safe and happy holidays! As is normal for this time of the year, the snowflakes have started flying. While this can make for beautiful scenery, it often entails digging the snow shovels out of storage to clean off the sidewalk or driveway. Shoveling can be an excellent source of physical activity, but care needs to be taken so that you don’t injure your back during the lifting process. Furthermore, due to the strain it can place on your heart if you’re not used to activity or have an underlying health concern, safety should always be considered prior to scooping. I’d like to use this column to point out some recommendations that readers can utilize to decrease their risk this snow season.

• Try lifting smaller loads of snow versus heavy shovelfuls or even consider using a smaller shovel and/or snow blower. If the snow is light enough, even consider pushing the snow and never lifting it at all.
• Bend your knees and lift with your legs during the toss rather than utilizing your back. Our spines are at least risk of injury when they’re braced solid and our extremities perform the movement.
• Make sure your shovel shaft is the right length to allow you to keep your back straight. A short shaft will require you to bend at your back more to lift the snow. However, a shaft that’s too long actually increases the weight at the end of the shovel.
• Step in the direction that you’re throwing snow to avoid twisting or hyperextending your back. Twisting while holding a heavy load can damage the discs of your spine.
• Take frequent rest breaks to stand up tall without being hunched over. This will help to avoid overstressing both your back and your heart. Use this time to walk around or perform some backward bending exercises while standing. This backwards bending will help to reverse the stresses from excessive forward bending snow shoveling. To do this movement, stand up tall, place your hands on the back of your hips and slightly bend backwards for several seconds.
• Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink alcohol prior to or immediately after shoveling. Large meals can increase the stress on your heart. Alcohol can increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause you to underestimate the level of strain your body is undergoing.

Taking these small steps when it comes to snow shoveling safety can help keep the new year moving in a positive direction by reducing your risk of injury but also allowing you some great levels of physical activity.

Once again, Happy New Year! I hope that you have a joyful, rewarding, and healthy 2016. The Johnson County Hospital and all of its employees are dedicated to maximizing our community’s health, and we’ll be here for you again this year.

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