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Slow and Steady Shoveling Best Method To Clear Snow

February 12, 2010

By Shantee Woodards, The (Annapolis, Md.) Capital

Feb. 12--The safest way to dig your vehicle out of a snowstorm of this magnitude is to give a 14-year-old boy $20 to do it for you.

But if that's not possible, occupational therapist Julie Belkin advises motorists to follow her shoveling regimen: Always use insulated gloves, shovel small areas every few hours, and keep medication handy.

Shovelers also need to utilize a stop-and-go system of digging as early in a storm as possible.

"The biggest challenge in anything like shoveling, you've got 20 or 30 pounds of snow at the end of a long (shovel)," said Belkin, founder and president of the Stevensville-based 3-Point Products Inc. The company provides products that relieve arthritis and other orthopedic conditions.

"If you lean forward and pick up the snow, the amount of stress that goes to your back is greater than if that weight was closer to your body," Belkin said. "If (the shovel filled with snow) is as close to your body as it can be, you can decrease your fulcrum."

In 2007, more than 118,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms and doctors' offices for injuries that occurred while shoveling snow, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Common injuries include sprains and strains to the back and shoulders, along with lacerations and finger amputations, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

"Every winter it's common for some people to overdo it when they're shoveling, and they can end up in the emergency room when they're not careful," said Justin Paquette, media coordinator at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. "People just need tobe careful and take breaks and not overdo it."

Dr. Randy Davis, a spinal surgeon at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie, offered three tips for digging out of the blizzard: Bend with your knees, not your back; chop the snow into smaller pieces; or hire the next-door neighbor's kids to do it.

That's advice Belkin normally follows in typical storms, though managing this winter's record snowfall has required some extra effort. For the most recent storm, she started shoveling early Wednesday and kept digging every few hours to keep up with the storm.

She recommends the use of a good pair of leather gloves to provide a firm grip on the shovel, and taking ibuprofen or some other form of anti-inflammatory medicine. A hot shower or bath when the shoveling is done will also help reduce pain and stiffness.

"No matter what condition you have, you're better to do half an hour to 45 minutes of what you need to do," said Belkin, an arthritis sufferer. "Get some rest, get the muscles recovered and do it again. ... And if someone comes by and offers help, take it."

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

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