Barry Triestman: Lightening the load while shoveling out in Truckee, Tahoe |

Barry Triestman: Lightening the load while shoveling out in Truckee, Tahoe

Snow shoveling most often affects the back, but one-third of the heart attacks occur the day after a substantial snowfall.

In addition, researchers have found a “dose response trend” showing the more it snowed (the deeper the snow, or the more consecutive days it snowed) the higher the incidence of heart attacks. The heavier the snowfall the more strained backs.

We have received 300 inches in Truckee and it is not letting up. So that dose is off the charts.

General guidelines

Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in dry cold winter months as it is in the summer. Warm up your muscles before shoveling, by walking for a few minutes or marching in place.

The equipment

The shovel needs to fit the person and be as light as possible. The handle should reach mid-chest and have a D handle. The blade should be plastic with a steel edge, approximately 16” x 14” in size works best. The smaller the better. Stay away from those enormous grain shovels. As for the ergonomic shovels they are helpful unless you are tall or short.

When you are at the store, get in the proper shoveling position and see which shovel keeps your spine straightest. We need a pushing shovel and a separate picking up shovel. Try and use a snow blower even for the smallest of jobs. You can probably borrow it from your neighbor for a nice bottle of wine. I keep hoping that they come out with a robot snow blower like a Roomba for the outdoors, I can’t wait. You can also hire some laborers to remove the snow for you. I believe the going rate is $50 per hour or hire a team of neighborhood kids.

The technique

Begin shoveling slowly and with a smaller load to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart, shoulder and back. Pace yourself and take breaks as needed. I like to divide the job up into small pieces and rest between them. The job should be broken up to minimize the moving of the snow and maximize breaks and stretching. Don’t forget to have your family come and help you.

Push the snow instead of lifting it. I know as the season progresses we need to do more lifting because of how big our snow banks get. To prevent a back injury we need to lift properly. This is done by having a strong wide base of support. Spread your feet a little wider than hip width. Place one foot in front of the other in a scissor stance. One hand should be close to the bottom of the shaft, the other at the top. The closer your hand is to the blade the less stress on the body, the blade is the part of the shovel that holds the snow not the cutting edge. You should switch hands and feet frequently, this will promote balance in your muscles ligaments and discs. Engage your abdominal muscle and bend with your legs as if you were squatting, keep your spine straight and keep the shovel close to your body.

Do not twist or throw the snow, if you need to place the snow to the side reposition your feet to face the direction the snow needs to go. Instead of throwing the snow walk over to the snow bank and place it. Twisting and throwing together place an enormous stress on our spines. If we get wetter snow, then take smaller scoops.

Dr. Barry Triestman is a chiropractor, active release technique practitioner in Truckee. Visit for information health and back-related information. He can be reached at 530-550-1688.

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