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Physicians warn against wintertime over-exertion

01/16/2017
Uniontown Hospital Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Surabhi Gaur

By Olivia Goudy

Herald-Standard

Snow shoveling and ice removal are necessary evils of the serene, winter season.

In doing so, however, local health experts are advising shovelers to be careful and listen to their bodies, rather than over­exerting themselves.

“Just because it’s a chore doesn’t mean you have to do it for three hours straight,” said Surabhi Gaur M.D., medical director at the Uniontown Hospital’s Emergency Department.

Instead, Gaur recommends the cardio­heavy activity be done in 20­ to 30 ­minute increments.

“Don’t be out for long periods of time,” she said. Gaur also recommended drinking water frequently. “You might not feel hot, but you’re still losing fluid,” Gaur said. “You can get dehydrated even when it’s not hot out.”

Tim Hohman, a nurse practitioner in Finleyville working with the Monongahela Valley Hospital, said the strenuous activity can place undue stress on the human heart. Snow removal can be especially dangerous if you do not exercise regularly, he said.

“Be aware of what your body is telling you,” Gaur said. “It’s not normal for you to have chest pains after shoveling snow. It could be more than muscle strain or tiredness.”

Gaur noted being aware of the environment that could cause those who are outdoors to fall and injure themselves or be exposed to the frigid temperatures for too long.

More than 158,000 people were treated in emergency rooms, doctors’ offices and clinics for injuries that happened while shoveling or removing ice and snow manually, Hohman said, citing a U.S.Consumer Product Safety Commission report for 2015.

At Uniontown Hospital, though there haven’t been many snow­ related injuries yet, snowstorms typically bring a number of slip injuries and motor vehicle collisions, Gaur said.

“We don’t see anything catastrophic,” she said.

The CPSC report said the most common injuries were sprains, back and shoulder strains, lacerations and finger amputations.

“Be careful. If you slip and break a wrist or ankle, you’re out of commission for six weeks,” Gaur said.

Gaur recommended planning ahead and timing activities appropriately to avoid shoveling in the dark, or on solid ice when salting it ahead of time could have prevented ice buildup. For the older population, Gaur said there’s nothing wrong with “relying on friends and neighbors, or professional services, for those types of chores.”

“In the end, you’re better off with a driveway full of snow than suffering a bone injury or something worse like a heart attack,” she said.

Instead, the CPSC advised shovelers to start early, clearing snow often especially if a large snowfall is expected. Officials also recommended warming up muscles for 10 minutes prior to the vigorous outdoor activity, and pacing yourself with frequent breaks and knowledge of proper lighting techniques.

“Try to push the snow instead of lifting it,” they said. “If you must lift, do it properly.”

They recommended shovelers squat with their legs apart, knees bent and back straight and instead lifting with their legs while not bending at the waist.

“Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine,” they wrote. “Never remove deep snow all at once — this is particularly important in the case of heavy, wet snow. Do it in pieces.”

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