The seasonal chore of snow shoveling combines heavy lifting and cold weather, resulting in possible injuries to the back and shoulder muscles if shovelers do not take the proper precautions. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) makes several recommendations to help you stay safe while clearing snow so you can still have some winter fun.
According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, more than 118,000 were treated for injuries sustained while shoveling or manually removing snow in 2007. In that same year, 15,000 were injured using snowblowers – three times as many snowblower injuries than in 2006. Types of injuries can include sprains and strains, particularly in the back and shoulders, as well as lacerations and finger amputations.
“People tend to think of snow removal as just another household task, but it really involves a lot of bending and heavy lifting, particularly in wet snow” says Robert Dunbar, M.D., spokesperson for the AAOS and member of the Academy’s Leadership Fellows Program “It may be especially dangerous for people who do not regularly exercise, as their bodies, specifically backs, shoulder and arm muscles may not be prepared for that level of activity.”
AAOS offers the following tips to prevent injuries while shoveling and using a snowblower:
- Check with your doctor. Because this activity places high stress on the heart, speak with your physician first. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove the snow.
- Dress appropriately. Light, layered, water-repellent clothing provides both ventilation and insulation. It is also important to wear the appropriate head coverings, as well as mittens or gloves and thick, warm socks. Take a break if you feel yourself getting too hot or too cold.
- See what you are shoveling/snow blowing. Make sure that your hat or scarf does not block your vision. Watch for ice patches and uneven surfaces. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles.
- Clear snow early and often. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid trying to clear packed, heavy snow.
- Warm up your muscles. Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin, warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.
- Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care.
- Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Consider buying a shovel that is specially designed to prevent too much stooping. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
- When possible, push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, take small amounts of snow, and lift it with your legs: Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist. Then walk to where you want to dump the snow; holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine.
- Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.
- Never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower. If snow becomes too impacted, stop the engine and wait at least five seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine has been turned off.
- Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.
- Watch the snow blower cord. If you are operating an electric snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times, so you do not trip and fall.
- Add fuel before starting the snow blower. Never add fuel when the engine is running or hot. Do not operate the machine in an enclosed area.
- Read the instruction manual. Prior to using a snow blower, read the instruction manual for specific safety hazards, unfamiliar features, and whenever attempting to repair or maintain the snow blower.
Visit http://www.orthoinfo.org/ for more tips on snow shoveling safety.