How to prevent injuries while shoveling snow

Posted at 5:37 PM, Oct 26, 2023

HELENA — Shoveling heavy, wet snow can be a real pain. But for some of our population, moving around this water-dense snow can be detrimental to their health.

Heavy wet snow has been piling up throughout western and central Montana. Shoveling this snow off your sidewalk or front walkway can be extremely strenuous to your heart and body, especially if you haven’t been physically active recently or have a history of heart disease. From 1990-2006, an average of 11,500 people/year were treated in emergency rooms for snow shoveling-related incidents. That’s nearly 200,000 people over that 16-year period.

“Obviously, our biggest concern is having a heart attack shoveling snow, especially when it’s this wet and heavy is really strenuous. So, it might be the biggest workout a lot of people have had all year without really realizing how difficult it can be when you’re lifting so much weight,” says Chris Ottemoeller, Nurse Practitioner at St. Peter’s Health Cardiology Clinic.

For lighter snow, there are certain shovels that actually have wheels on them. You can also attach a rope to your shovel to try and make shoveling easier.

Reece Brandon, Physical Therapist with St. Peter’s Health says that using proper shoveling techniques is essential to stop you from throwing out your back. He says that you should get down low to the ground and lift with your legs, put your legs in a wider stance, put less snow in the shovel, shovel close to your body, and rotate your body as a unit in order to prevent possible injuries to your lower back or shoulders.

“I honestly think it’s good advice for really anyone who has to shovel because if you can take a second to think about, am I doing this in a way that will minimize a potential injury?” says Brandon.

Another great tip is to do some light movement or stretching before heading out into the cold to shovel.

And neighbors, if you see someone struggling to shovel their sidewalk, perhaps consider stepping in to help or refer a niece or nephew looking to make some extra cash.

“Asking your neighbors if you need help, offering assistance, especially if somebody’s elderly or has a history of heart disease,” says Ottemoeller

Ottemoeller says that if you feel heart pain or other signs of a heart attack, to stop and get help professional medical help immediately.

“Yeah, pay attention to your body. If you’re having chest pain make sure you go and get it checked out. Don’t try to push through it,” says Ottemoeller.