Shoveling snow: Safety tips to prevent injuries, heart attack

As winter storms impact many cities across the United States, snow removal has become a necessary household chore. 

However, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, all the bending and lifting of heavy snow can put a person at serious risk for injuries and heart attacks. 

The organization said the most common injuries associated with snow removal include sprains and strains, particularly in the back and shoulders, as well as lacerations and finger amputations.

In 2018, more than 137,000 people were treated in emergency rooms, doctors' offices, and clinics for injuries that happened while shoveling or using snowblowers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported.

A man shovels snow on February 9, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Here are some safety tips for clearing snow safely. 

How to shovel show safely

Dress appropriately: Light, layered, water-repellent clothing provides both ventilation and insulation. The AAOS said it is also important to wear the appropriate head covering and thick, warm socks. In addition, choose gloves or mittens that will keep your hands warm, dry, and blister-free. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles.

Start early: Try to clear snow early and often—particularly if a large snowfall is expected. It is always best to begin shoveling or snowblowing when there is just a light covering of snow on the ground. Starting early will give you the best chance possible to avoid potential injuries.

Make sure you can see: Be sure that you can fully see the area that you are shoveling/snowblowing. Watch for ice patches and uneven surfaces.

Check with your doctor if you have any medical problems: Clearing snow places a great deal of stress on the heart, so if you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, you should speak with your doctor before shoveling or snow blowing.

Warm up your muscles: Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin this physical workout, warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.

Pace yourself: Take frequent breaks and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, stop the activity and seek emergency care.

Use proper equipment: Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.

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Proper lifting: Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, do it properly by squatting with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs, and do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. 

Utilize safety techniques: Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once—this is particularly important in the case of heavy, wet snow. Do it in pieces. Also, do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. The AAOS contributed to this story.