Friday, February 12, 2010

Shoveling can be hazardous to your health

Public health officials warn of heart attacks and other cold-weather hazards.

As if all the white stuff falling from the sky in the eastern United States weren’t annoying enough, public health officials offer one more reason to hate it: It can kill you, or at least harm your health. Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human services issued a release Thursday reminding the not-so-young among us that certain winter activities, especially shoveling, should be left to the very fit. Muscle strain, including that of the cardiac muscle, can result when people who haven’t left the couch since November suddenly rise and take a shovel to the double-digit snowfall totals that have plagued parts of the U.S. in the last few weeks.

"If you're not a regular exerciser or you're in poor physical shape, your body won't be prepared for the stress of shoveling snow and you increase your chances of sustaining muscle pulls, back injuries and strains. Snow shoveling can also strain the heart and cause potentially life-threatening injuries, such as a heart attack," Dr. Susan Wainwright, vice chair of the physical therapy department at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, said in a news release highlighted by public health officials.

Wainwright added that men and women over age 45, especially those who aren't physically active or have a history of a heart condition, should leave the shoveling to someone else. "The heart is a muscle just like any other muscle in your body and when it gets strained, it shuts down because it can't handle the increased load. Older adults who aren't active tax their cardiovascular system when they start to shovel and this often results in heart attacks," Wainwright explained.

Wainwright and other public health officials offered these tips to avoid injury and protect your health:

  • Warm up before you shovel, just as you would for any other rigorous exercise. Jog around. Jump rope. Stretch.
  • Buy an ergonomically correct snow shovel. These types of shovels are designed to reduce bending and decrease lifting.
  • Push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, use your legs and not your back. Don’t twist your back when you deposit the snow.
  • Take a break every 15 minutes or so.

In addition to the joint warning by Wainwright and the Health and Human Services Department, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have offered their own cold-weather warnings. Public health officials there want you to be aware of hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot and chilblains. Hypothermia and frostbite require medical treatment; trench foot and chilblains can be self-treated if they are not too severe. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it and the core temperature drops. Early symptoms include shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination and confusion. Frostbite is an injury to tissue caused by freezing, Symptoms include numbness, aching, tingling and sometimes a blue or waxy cast to the skin. Trench foot occurs after prolonged exposure to cool, damp or wet conditions. Early symptoms include reddening of the tissue and swelling; advanced symptoms can include gangrene. Chilblains are damage to capillaries caused by repeated exposure to cool temperatures. They can cause itching and inflammation.

What’s your winter-related health horror story?

Photo Credit: ktylerconk

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