Throwing Snow Safely

According to a seventeen-year study appearing in the January 2011 issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, injuries and medical emergencies from shoveling snow average 11,500 per year. 

The study reveals soft tissue injuries were the most common at 54.7% and  low back injuries accounted for 34.3% of the cases. The most common mechanism of injury was acute musculoskeletal exertion (53.9%) followed by slips and falls at 20.0%.

It can happen to anyone.  Last year there was a news report where a former Minnesota Twins pitcher suffered a lacerated spleen from landing on the handle of his shovel after slipping while shoveling at his home.

Shoveling can be great exercise as well as a winter necessity, serving to get us outside and into some physical exertion during the winter months.  However, simply walking outside in the freezing weather unprepared for the exertion of shoveling can be hazardous.  Proper preparation before shoveling and precautions during shoveling can help avoid injury.  Try these tips:

  • Use the proper footwear.  Wear a boot that has a good heavy tread or a traction enhancing device like Stabilicers or MicroSpikes.
  • Layer clothing to keep your muscles warm and flexible and to alleviate overheating and excess sweating.
  • Warm-up and stretch before you grab the shovel.  Shoveling can stress muscles in your arms, upper back, lower back, buttocks, and legs. 
  • Choose a shovel that you can easily handle.  Snow weighs from 7 pounds per cubic foot to an astounding 30 pounds per cubic foot, so one shovelful can weigh between 7 to 45 pounds.  Pick a shovel that will allow you to lift a reasonable amount and that has a long enough handle to limit your bending at the waist. • Walk or push the snow to the snow bank. Avoid sudden twisting and turning motions.
  • Bend your knees and try to keep your back straight not hunched when shoveling. Let the muscles of your legs and arms do the work, not your back.
  • Take frequent rest breaks to allow your muscles and cardiovascular system to recover.  Fatigue can lead to injury.
  • Stop and get help immediately if you feel pain in your chest, or have shortness of breath.

So Take a MEMIC Minute and Shovel Safely this winter.

Snow shoveler taking a break.