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February 10th, 2010
01:29 PM ET

Snow, snow...too much snow

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

It’s snowing where I live. No, I mean really snowing. I’ve resided off and on in the Washington, D.C. area for fifty years, and I have never seen this much snow in one week. Even the blizzard of '96 didn't dump this much white stuff so quickly.

Yet for many, this kind of weather is a winter wonderland; a time for getting out and building snow people, skating, skiing, even tubing. But in order to get out, you have to dig out. And that’s the challenge.

For years I have suffered from back pain. Ruptured discs can do that to you. So when it comes to shoveling snow, that chore falls on my husband’s shoulders (and his back and legs too).

But there has been so much snow the last few days - I couldn’t just let him do it on his own. I had to help. He didn’t want me to. But I insisted. Not a good idea.

I now have back pain again. And doctors will tell you, even if you don’t have a history of back pain, you can injure your glutes and other muscles very quickly by lifting and shoveling snow incorrectly.

According to the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, on the average, more than 120,000 people are treated for injuries suffered from snow and ice removal every year. Most problems are muscular– back pain, shoulder pulls. But many people slip and fall and injure themselves on the ice.

So the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is trying to get the word out that people need to take proper health and safety precautions when shoveling snow.

First off, the AAOS says, be prepared. Doctors warn if you are out of shape, go easy on scooping up snow. It’s heavy and can strain your whole body as well as your heart. If you’ve been a couch potato all winter, you might want to pay a local teen to shovel you out. And once the snow clears, get moving, so next time Ol' Man Winter strikes, you’ll be ready.

Wear the right clothing. Keep warm - put on heavy socks, a hat and gloves. When you get cold, take a break. And wear boots that are slip resistant because ice goes hand in hand with snow. You never know where it may be hiding.

And prepare your body: Before going out to sling flakes, warm up with light exercise. About ten minutes will do it. Stretch the muscles to help them stay limber. Once you get outside, don’t overload the shovel. Dig with your knees, not your back (which was my problem). Picking snow up with your knees avoids strain on the back muscles. If the snow is too heavy, push it rather than lift it. And don’t throw snow over your shoulder. That can twist your back out.

But most importantly, try not to overdo it. Moderation is the key. Shovel a little at a time. It may take you longer to dig out, but once you do your back will thank you for not rushing it.

Do you have a tip on how to stay healthy during the winter months? We’d like to hear about it.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Larry Valecia, Calif.

    This is the reason I live in Calif.!!! If I want snow I can drive 50ty miles and be in it,,, I can drive 50ty miles & I would be at the beach... 285 miles & I'm in Vegas!!!

    February 11, 2010 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. mrynelson

    My husband managed to sleep through me banging around so I shoveled. It wasn't supper heavy I took it in haves I think I might have bent my knees? I just thought about it I never did get any aches above my usual 60 year old aches. I think I accidently did it right because I took the dog for a walk first. I shoved good for awhile taking it by halves as I said but then I did alot of taking and leaning on the shovel. So it is true doctors are their own worst patients. Gotta go granddaughter escaped.

    February 11, 2010 at 11:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lakia

    "It’s snowing where I live. No, I mean really snowing. I’ve resided off and on in the Washington, D.C. area for fifty years, and I have never seen this much snow in one week."

    That's the SAME thing I've been saying, I live in Hampton Roads, VA and never have I seen this much... I left Northwestern PA to get away from the blizzards lol... but I guess I have to tough it out.

    February 11, 2010 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.