Shoveling 101

What you need to know if you haven't snagged a snowblower yet.

Mother Nature packed a powerful 10-inch punch overnight, and now you have to spend an hour shoveling in a freezing, predawn winter wonderland just to get your car out of the driveway. The upshot: Major postshoveling pain—tweaked nerve endings, muscle strains, disc herniations, and spasms that vibrate through your back every time you move. Not to worry. We checked in with the Colorado Comprehensive Spine Institute's Dr. Joseph Fillmore, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, for the lowdown on snow shoveling dos and don'ts. —JD

Do
Make sure you're in reasonable shape.
"It's like any other strenuous exercise. You need to be in fairly good medical condition—I've seen people go out and have a heart attack shoveling snow. Snow is very heavy; you can injure yourself very easily. People should warm up."

Choose your weapon wisely.
"You need a shovel that's the right length; if it's too long, you won't be able to bend your knees enough. You want to bend with the knees so you can lift up rather than pulling up with the back. And some further advice: Get a curved-handle shovel, because it reduces the torque on your back."

Don't
Try to be Hercules.
"Lift small amounts, and try to push as much as you can. Go from the top of the pile to the bottom—don't try to start at the bottom. The weight of snow can be detrimental to your lower back."

Toss it 'cause it's faster.
"It's never a good idea to twist; trying to throw snow over your shoulder can really injure your back. Keep your back straight, place your hands shoulder-width apart, bend your knees, and walk over to where you want to place the snow."

Think you're immune to the ol' disc slip.
"As you get older, things change in your body; you lose elasticity, and your body can't bounce back as quickly from muscle strains as it once did. The discs in the back, as you move through life, tend to dry out and become more brittle. You're more subject to injuring your back because the disc isn't quite as pliable. Seventy percent of our practice is treating back injuries. During winter, it's either people who are skiing and fall or people who are out trying to clean off the driveway."

Snow Patrol

Do you know Denver's sidewalk snow-shoveling laws?

Like it or not, one residential duty binds us all come wintertime: the act of shoveling the sidewalk. After all, just because everything's covered in white doesn't mean there aren't places to go and things to do. So it makes sense that the city has rules for this kind of thing. Within city limits, walkways must be accessible and safe, and Denver ensures this by requiring that residents remove snow from their adjacent public walks within 24 hours after the last flake falls. (Businesses have four hours.) During a major snow event, like the blizzard of March 2003, officials may suspend these rules for up to 72 hours.

To keep us all honest, the city coordinates route inspections in commercial districts and relies largely on citizen complaints—dial 311—to keep residential areas in check. Complaints result in about 3,000 cases of snow-removal negligence a year, but most are resolved with a first-time warning. So, yeah, it's a bummer to have to trudge out before work, but making a habit of not clearing your walkways could leave you short $150—the city's going rate for a first-time citation. —CHJ

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