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How to shovel snow and protect your back

It's winter time in the Boston area. Besides the usual aggravations of clogged, slippery, morning commutes, personnel should also prepare for the big dig out.

People with heart problems should check with their doctor before going out to shovel. The American Heart Association says the combination of cold weather and physical exertion does put more strain on the heart, which can increase the risk of heart attacks in those who are susceptible. Anyone experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack while shoveling should call 911.

More common than heart attacks are shoveling-related injuries like pulled muscles and strained backs. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

* Warm up your muscles by doing some light calisthenics, such as walking in place, squats or jumping jacks, for 10 minutes before you head outdoors.

* Pace yourself by taking frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

* Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Consider buying a bent-handle shovel that's designed to prevent too much stooping. Space your hands several inches apart on the tool grip to increase your leverage.

* Push the snow instead of lifting it, as much as you can. When you do have to lift snow, take small amounts of snow at a time, and lift it with your legs, not your back muscles. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist, then walk to where you want to dump the snow, holding the shovelful of snow close to your body; holding it with outstretched arms puts too much weight on your spine.

* Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side since this twisting motion can stress your back.

* If you're using a snowblower, never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower. If snow becomes too impacted, stop the engine and wait at least five seconds before using a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine has been turned off. Also, never add fuel when the engine is running or hot.

(Updated November 2018)