By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – Today you shovel; tomorrow you come to visit me for a low back that’s out of place, a rotator cuff that’s torn, or a banged up knee that slipped and crashed to the concrete.

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From heart attacks to pulled muscles, snow shoveling is one of the major reasons for doctor’s visits this time of year, so let’s make a deal: let’s agree not to become winter acquaintances.

So how do you stay out of trouble? First, there are the basics of shoveling, and then there are the mechanics.

BASICS:

Warm up. You sure wouldn’t take off for a nice walk by suddenly bursting into a sprint. Your heart, joints, and muscles all need to gradually work their way to industrial strength by going half speed for at least 10 minutes before you really start heaving the white stuff like a madman. Take it slow at first.

You need to take a break every 15 minutes. Your driveway is a marathon, not a sprint — but a marathon that’s not against the clock. You shouldn’t be doing heavy work without a frequent timeout. Remember, even athletes call time to replenish their wind.

Drink those fluids. Water is best to head off the dehydration of exercise — a problem that can happen at any temperature — even cold. You can’t dry out and be effective. Remember, its exercise you’re doing.

Bundle up in layers  peel off as necessary –and be sure to cover those ears, cheeks, and noses — all prime targets for frostbite.

Finally, cool down. When you finish, don’t just plop into a chair like a dead lump — or else you can wind up being a dead lump. Your heart (and other parts) need to gradually slow down after a workout — not abruptly stop.

MECHANICS:

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Good boots for traction, good gloves for grip, and good posture are the starters.

Face the snow you are lifting — spread those feet just about shoulder width or a touch more.

Your back stays straight. It wasn’t built to bend and lift. All lifting is done by the thighs.

No twisting or throwing snow at an angle — unless your want to anger your back muscles.

Hands low on the shovel — a long shovel makes lifting more difficult.

All lifts, btw, should be close to the body, not reaching away.

If possible, push the snow — don’t lift.

And by all means, no twist and flip of the snow off of the shovel — I’ve seen torn wrist ligaments from that move.

Finally, pay a neighborhood kid to do the work for you. Seriously, if you go from couch warrior to instant snow attacker, you risk a lot of major league injuries. Be smart. Your health is more important than the snow. Get some help.

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Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida