There are a few things in Colorado more wonderful than awakening to a tranquil, fresh blanket of snow...until you realize that you need to shovel out!
Health concerns associated with shoveling fall into two categories:
The less common but potentially more dangerous involves the individual with underlying heart or lung disease. Both the cold and the altitude increase the physical stress of snow shoveling. People with these conditions need to be careful that the exertion they apply to shoveling doesn't exceed that of their normal daily activities. Asking your doctor whether it is safe to shovel is important. If you need oxygen to exercise, be certain to wear it while shoveling. Maintain a pace that does not cause shortness of breath, and stop and call your physician if you experience any new chest symptoms or difficulty breathing.
For the rest of us, the major stress of shoveling falls on our back, shoulders, and elbows. The repetitive twisting and lifting is particularly hard on the low back. Techniques to reduce potential injuries are important, especially with heavy wet snow. Some tips to consider: decrease the load per shovel to avoid strain, switch sides regularly, avoid abrupt twisting and throwing motions as they can result in shoulder tendonitis and tennis elbow pains, and consider an ergonomic shovel to reduce back strain.
Ice any sore spots after shoveling and, if pain develops, stop and recruit someone willing to help.
Ken Cohen, MD, F.A.C.P.
Evergreen Internal Medicine
Chief Medical Officer