Snow shovelers face health risk |

Snow shovelers face health risk

Dan Thrift/Tahoe TribuneBob Whelan, 60, clears a driveway for an elderly neighbor on Wednesday morning in South Lake Tahoe.

South Lake Tahoe snow shovelers may find themselves digging 6 feet under if health problems are ignored.

Doctors and other health professionals are urging the masses to practice precaution when out with the tools that have seconded as body-limb extensions in Tahoe over the last few days.

Barton Memorial Hospital reported Wednesday no surge in cardiac cases into the emergency room, but the South Shore facility has prepared for the worst with more storms yet to come.

“We’re in the eye of the hurricane,” Barton Emergency Services Manager Mary Flores said.

As it is, Flores said she was taken back by some cases of 40-year-old people brought in with cardiac-related problems.

Anyone who complains of chest pain while shoveling snow is advised to immediately go to the emergency room.

A sedentary lifestyle mixed with heavy snow can provide a lethal combination for shovelers.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, death rates from heart attacks tripled among men ages 35 to 49 with 1 inch of snow and temperatures below 20 degrees. The overall risk rises for men of all ages.

The study dissected winter deaths using mortality data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and weather information obtained from the National Climatic Data Center.

More than 1,200 people die in the United States after a major snowstorm, the American Journal of Cardiology reports.

People over 65, those who are inactive and patients with heart ailments are encouraged to refrain from shoveling snow.

South Lake Tahoe Senior Center Manager John Collins has fielded many calls from seniors looking for assistance clearing the snow from driveways. He said volunteers could contact him at the senior center if they’d like to help.

The evidence suggests the association between higher mortality and extreme weather conditions is rooted in physiology. Essentially, when people engage in typical winter activities such as snow shoveling with exposure to cold and increased physical stress, the stage has been set for lethal heart attacks.

Poor posture punctuates the risk. Bearing down on the shovel while ignoring the leg muscles fails to bring enough blood flow to the heart muscle.

Chris Proctor of Emerald Bay Physical Therapy suggests shovelers seek the longer variety or the tool with bent handles. These are primarily used for pushing, rather than lifting and throwing.

From the patients Proctor has seen, he pushes for Tahoe residents to tackle the driveway “every time it snows 4 inches.” Otherwise, the job becomes monumental.

“The berms are the hardest,” he said.

Proctor expects his practice will be slammed with patients complaining of back and neck pain by next week.

For these people, he recommends taking anti-inflammatories and stretching before and after shoveling.

“You have to treat it like an athletic event. It would be the same way if you ran (competitively),” Proctor said.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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