The American Chiropractic Association estimates that 80 – 90% of the American population suffers from back pain. Likewise, the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association report that around 85.6 million people in the United States are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of a stroke. These statistics are shocking in and of themselves, but medical experts say that these conditions are especially at risk during cold, snowy weather. As wet, cold snow pummels the Northeast, cardiologists and chiropractors are reminding their patients to be careful as they try to tackle the inclement weather.
For many Americans, shoveling is a dreaded but necessary activity that must be carried out every winter. However, the heavy, wet snowstorms that began in late January could reportedly aggravate a number of health conditions, especially heart and back strain. Lifting and pushing this hefty precipitation increases the heart rate and blood pressure, while also putting strain on a person’s arm and back muscles. Doctors say that this could be dangerous for people who don’t regularly exercise, especially those who have back problems or may not realize they are at risk for heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. Research shows that cardiovascular conditions and stroke claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined, but relatively few patients realize they are at risk.
Those without cardiovascular issues or back problems can shovel safely, but doctors say that these people should still take precautions: instead of diving into the task, for example, cardiologist recommend working at around 80% capacity and taking frequent breaks and pauses. People planning to clear away some snow should also avoid eating heavy meals 30 to 60 minutes before or after shoveling, and everyone should definitely make sure they are properly dressed for the cold. Consuming large quantities of food and exposing your skin to the cold can place a significant strain on the heart, which can potentially cause angina, chest discomfort, or even a heart attack.
To make the task easier, experts recommend using a smaller shovel or a snowblower, which can help prevent back or heart strain. Whatever tool is being used, however, doctors suggest wearing a scarf over face and mouth: breathing in too much cold air can also put stress on the heart. For this reason, cardiologists say they typically see a rush of newly diagnosed heart disease cases after major snow storms.
Chiropractors are also warning their patients about the risks of shoveling. While they say that patients with chronic back pain should avoid shoveling entirely, people who do engage in this activity should push show instead of lifting it and bend at the knees, not the back. To further reduce strain on the back, doctors recommend using shovels with a bend in the handle.
If you must lift snow, chiropractors also advise patients to pick up small amounts of snow, keeping the weight of the snow and the shovel close to the body. Back muscles have to work harder the farther away the load is, which can aggravate existing back pain and cause new aches. Doctors also suggest working for 20 minute periods, making sure to focus on both the right and left side of the body to evenly distribute stress and prevent pain.