Winter is upon us, and so is the increased risk of injury from shoveling snow and falling on ice. Being mindful of some very basic concepts can help to significantly reduce these prevalent, yet often preventable, injuries.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, in 2014, over 200,000 people were treated for snow shoveling and ice removal injuries in emergency rooms, clinics and doctors’ offices. Sprains/strains, particularly in the back and shoulders, and herniated discs are among the most common snow shoveling injuries. Other risks are exhaustion, dehydration and heart attacks
Here are some basic tips to minimize the risk of injury while shoveling snow:
- Warm up! Think of snow shoveling as any other form of exercise. It is always important to warm up for at least 10 minutes with dynamic stretching and light calisthenics. When done correctly, snow shoveling can actually be a great workout. Take advantage of the opportunity, but do it safely.
- Stay hydrated.
- Take breaks when feeling tired.
- Use a shovel that is comfortable and not too heavy. Space your hands to increase leverage.
- Push the snow instead of lifting when possible.
- When lifting is unavoidable, lift small loads instead of loading up the shovel. It is helpful to get out early and shovel in multiple shifts while the snow is still light. This may be inconvenient, but think of it as more time for precious physical activity with less strain on your back.
- Lift correctly with good technique. Do not bend the lumbar spine forward while lifting. Instead, keep the spine straight and hinge/bend at the hips. The knees will naturally bend as well, but greatest amount of bending should be at the hips. The gluteal muscles are powerful and designed to handle higher amounts of stress, so use them!
- After lifting the small amount of light snow, walk it to where you want to dump it keeping the spine straight and shoulders squared. Avoid twisting and throwing the snow, as in throwing over the shoulder. Also avoid holding the arms out too far in front of you while holding weight. Try to keep the elbows as close to your trunk as possible, as this will minimize stress on the spine and shoulders.
- Wear appropriate shoes with slip resistant rubber treads or spikes, and appropriate clothing to keep warm and dry.
- If at any point you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or any other symptoms of heart attack, stop immediately, call 911 and seek emergency care.
- If you have a history of heart disease or are at risk, consult a physician before attempting any vigorous exercise.
Slip and fall injuries are another common occurrence which can have serious consequences. These injuries can result in sprain/strains, fractures, bruising, brain and spinal cord injury. Statistics show that the majority of these injuries occur in parking lots. The most important measure one can take, besides avoiding walking on ice/snow all together, is to wear proper shoes. Insulated and water resistant boots with slip-resistant rubber treads are the best option for walking on icy or snowy ground. Over-shoes with rubber or spiked treads placed on regular dress shoes are another helpful option. Keeping an extra pair in the car or at work just in case of an unexpected storm is not a bad idea. You can never be too prepared.
Enjoy the winter, but most of all stay healthy and safe!
Robert Inesta, DC, L.Ac, CCSP