If you live in the central or northern states, dusting off the ol’ snow shovel is one of the familiar rituals of winter. But did you know that shoveling snow sends an average of over 11,000 people – men, women and children - to the emergency room each year?
According to a 17-year study published in 2011 by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, the most common severe injuries encountered while shoveling snow include back injuries, broken bones, head injuries and heart-related problems, with muscle, ligament, tendon, and other soft tissue injuries accounting for most of the reported incidents.
Here are some tips to help you shovel snow safely and avoid becoming a statistic this winter:
Just say no to heavy, straight handled shovels. Studies show that a curved handle shovel is much less likely to lead to injury because it requires less bending and twisting . Opt for plastic or lighter aluminum shovel with a handle that’s adequate for your height.
Frostbite on your face or extremities is another cause for concern, especially in very low temperatures. Wear warm, waterproof gloves and cover your ears, nose and face. Dress in thin, warm layers that are loose enough for the air between them to provide added insulation. Heated clothing is another option. Toe warmers can help keep your feet warm. If it’s exceptionally cold, take frequent breaks indoors.
Wear sturdy footwear with good traction to prevent “slip and fall” injuries.
Warm up with some light exercise before starting. Lift from your knees instead of your back, and push snow out of the way instead of lifting it, whenever possible. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also advises that you should not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side because the twisting motion involved may stress your back. Instead, turn your body so you’re not twisting to unload the snow.
Shoveling snow is strenuous activity. Is your fitness level up to the task? Cold temperatures constrict blood vessels, which can increase the risk of a heart attack. Stop immediately and seek help if you feel pain, shortness of breath. If you have known heart problems or your finess level isn’t up to snuff, consider asking for help, or investing in a good snow blower.
Instead of trying to load the shovel with as much snow as you can possibly lift, clear it away in smaller, more manageable amounts. Avoid piling snow too high so you don’t strain your upper back or shoulders – when in doubt, start another pile.
Even if you are in great shape, pace yourself and take frequent breaks.
Kid love to help out. We’re all in favor of letting the young ones get in on the action – it’s a good foundation for teaching responsibility - but teach your kids form the start that the shovel is not a toy … or a weapon to use on their siblings. Kids should be using an appropriate kid-sized shovel and taught how to use it properly.
Keep pets indoors while you're working. Most dogs love to play in the snow, but they can get underfoot - possibly causing injury to you or to them. There will be plenty of time to let them play after you're done.