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The dangers of snow shovelling


Snow shovelling can pose certain health risks
Snow shovelling can pose certain health risks

Staff writers

It's winter, and in many parts of Canada that means shovelling is inevitable. Here are some tips on how to avoid putting your health in jeopardy.

Strength and muscular work is needed for shovelling
Strength and muscular work is needed for shovelling

Although shovelling may be a common winter household chore, it's also potentially dangerous for your health.

No matter your age and how healthy you think you are, the physical exertion of shovelling in combination with colder temperatures can be too much for the heart.

“After a big snowfall I can guarantee that you'll see an increase in the number of (usually) middle age and older men who get heart attacks. Although women aren't immune to physical injury when shovelling either,” explains Dr. Mitch Shulman, an emergency medical specialist.

Injuries from shovelling can range in severity. “It can be everything from a simple muscular ache or pull or soreness all the way to a heart attack.” According to Shulman, the most common impairments include wrist and hip injuries, muscular strains and aches, especially back pain and cold complications like asthma. He notes that symptoms don't usually reveal themselves for a few days after shovelling.

Dr. Shulman believes that in many cases people don't realize the physical toll of lifting heavy mounds of snow. “The problem with shovelling is that most of us just rush out and do it because it has to get done. People take it for granted because it's something we have to do without realizing there's a fair amount of strength and muscular work involved that can really put your entire body into extreme stress.”

It's not just the physical act of shovelling that can affect your well-being. The weather also plays a pivotal role.

“The problem is when you go outside, you're working in the cold. This puts more strain on your body, blood vessels clamp down, the body has to work harder to keep your body heat up elevated and at the same time supply all the needs of muscles as you're working,” says Dr. Shulman.

Because shovelling is all upper body work, it can increase your chance of injury because your chest, shoulders and arms aren't built for repeated heavy exertion.

For those that believe shovelling injuries can only affect seniors, think again. “Ultimately, hurting yourself while shovelling is about physical conditioning and underlying health issues. But anyone can be at risk no matter what your age is.”

TIPS

Dr. Shulman recommends some tips to lower your risk of injury while shovelling:

  • Dress in layers.
  • Warm up gently.
  • Start off slowly.
  • Break up the job into sizeable, small loads.
  • Take it slow -- there's no rush.
  • Don't twist your body and throw, turn your entire body, lift and throw.
  • Get a smaller shovel so you're not tempted to take big portions of snow.
  • Don't push yourself.

“You can do it if you do it properly. You attack the snow with the right preparation. Check with your doctor, how much exercise am I allowed? This will indicate to you how you can go about this safely, carefully and without putting yourself at risk.”

SYMPTOMS OF A HEART ATTACK

  • Shortness of breath, crushing chest pains and sweating.
  • Extreme exhaustion.

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