Here’s everything you need to know before shoveling snow

WASHINGTON — Once the snow settles down, you might be tempted to get out there and clear your driveway and sidewalks. But before you pick up that shovel, here are some things to be aware of.

Shoveling can prompt heart attacks, death.

Mark Brady, chief spokesman for Prince George’s County Fire Department in Maryland, says a Fort Washington man died of an apparent heart attack on Saturday, after shoveling snow outside his home.

According to Dr. Warren Levy, chief medical officer of Virginia Heart, one of the largest cardiology practices in the region, about 1,500 Americans die every year while shoveling snow.

He says shoveling snow involves a level of exertion that most people just are not used to and don’t do on a daily basis.

People most likely to have problems while shoveling snow are those already diagnosed with heart disease, or who have significant risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cigarette smoking, a strong family history or a sedentary lifestyle.

Cold temperatures can cause breathing problems.

Beware of the cold temperatures. Shoveling in the snow requires high energy and therefore, can cause frequent, heavy breathing. Inhaling cold air frequently will constrict lungs and airways, making it difficult for oxygen to enter the bloodstream. One way to avoid this is to cover your mouth and nose while outside.

Shoveling heavy, wet snow risks back and shoulder injuries. 

Snow shovelers tend to hurt themselves when they bend at the waist instead of the knees then twist their bodies, throwing the snow to the side.

“I recommend keeping your feet flat and that’s usually going to force you to bend your knees as you’re going to bend forward to lift the snow,” physical therapist Ira Silverstein says.

He says it’s wise to face the the direction where you’ll throw the snow to eliminate the rotary component liable to create the injury.

Silverstein also urges shovelers to shovel just a little snow at a time.

Proper shoveling position matters.

To shovel properly, Pallavi Shah, a physical therapist with Physical Therapy in Action of Silver Spring, Maryland says to bend down on your hands and knees and do not twist your back or bend on your back.

Like Silverstein, Shah recommends lifting small amounts of snow at a time and keeping the shovel from swinging too high.

“Do not try to reach and toss the snow,” Shah says. Instead, walk to the place where you want to pile the snow and just dump it there.”

Here’s a video from Fairfax County Government in Virginia illustrating proper shoveling techniques:

In this video, Virginia Department of Transportation demonstrates how to remove snow from driveways:

Despite these tips, Levy says it’s best to play it safe and find neighborhood youth to shovel for you. 

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up