Heavy snow brings more than just potential driving dangers

LEWISTOWN – While few would dispute the dangers of being on the roads during a snowstorm, many people tend to forget that a slippery coating on the highways isn’t the only cause for concern in bad weather. The risk of muscle strains, sprains and heart attack while removing snow increases with every inch of snow that falls.

The American Heart Association warns of the combination of cold temperatures and physical exertion, which could make shoveling snow dangerous for some. On its website, the AHA offers these tips for reducing the risk of heart attack while clearing snow from sidewalks and driveways:

Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling to reduce stress on the heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks

Don’t eat a heavy meal before or soon after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.

Use a smaller shovel or a snow thrower. It is safer to lift smaller amounts repeatedly than it is to lug fewer heavier loads.

When possible, simply push the snow.

Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may increase the sensation of warmth and may cause an underestimation of the extra strain the body is under in the cold.

The chance of having a heart attack is increased while shoveling snow because of the extra strain put on the heart, but there are other year-round activities which could have the same effect. The association encourages individuals to know the warning signs of heart attack and stroke:

Discomfort in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes or recurring. Sensations can include uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

To spot the onset of a stroke, the AHA recommends the F.A.S.T. method:

Face drooping – Ask the person to smile; drooping or numbness on one side of the face can indicate stroke.

Arm weakness – Ask the person to raise both arms; there may be a problem if one arm drifts downward.

Speech difficulty – Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. If speech is slurred, difficult to understand or the person is unable to speak, then it is necessary to move on to the next step.

Time to call 9-1-1 – If the person shows any of the above symptoms, even if they go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately.

The association emphasizes that minutes matter when dealing with heart attack or stroke symptoms, so if any symptoms are present, dialing 9-1-1 sooner rather than later could be a life-saving move.

Even if an individual is not at risk for heart attack or stroke, there is still a possibility of injury while shoveling snow. The American Chiropractic Association has additional tips to help prevent painful strains and sprains associated with snow removal:

Allow plenty of time for shoveling. Rushing to clear a driveway increases the chance of injury.

Wear layers of clothing to keep muscles warm and flexible.

Stretch before shoveling.

Avoid sudden twisting and turning motions.

Bend the knees to lift snow, and let leg and arm muscles do the work instead of the back.

If soreness is experienced after shoveling, the ACA suggests applying ice to the affected area for 20 minutes, repeating every few hours for a day or two. If soreness does not lessen, seek medical attention.

For more information, visit www.heart.org or www.acatoday.org.