Shoveling snow isn’t particularly difficult, but it is fraught with injuries.
In 2018, the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that medical professionals treated 137,000 people for snowblower or snow shoveling injuries.
Some people will hurt their hands and wrists; others will injure their back and shoulders. A few will experience life-changing injuries through a serious fall or heart attack.
If you’re older than 50 years old and are prone to shortness of breath or chest pain, talk to your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to shovel snow.
To avoid some of the more common injuries, warm up the muscles in your arms and legs before you start to shovel.
Be aware of these common snow shoveling injuries.
1. Back Injuries.
Lifting heavy shovels full of snow can strain your back. Try to push the snow, instead.
When you can’t avoid lifting your shovel, make sure you lift it correctly. Squat down with your knees slightly bent. Tighten your core to protect your back. Hinge from the hips as you fill the shovel. Use your hips and legs to stand up and lift the shovel with your arms.
If you feel twinges, spasms, or pain in your back, don’t keep shoveling. Take a break and ask someone else to finish the chore.
2. Shoulder Injuries.
Throwing snow over your shoulder onto an ever-higher snow bank can cause swelling and inflammation in the joint.
Repeated lifting and throwing heavy shovels full of snow stresses and strains the muscles, ligaments, and tendons surrounding the shoulder.
3. Broken bones.
Ice often comes with snow, which makes slips and falls more likely. Injuries for falls can cause minor bumps and bruises, broken bones, or tears in soft tissues surrounding the joints.
Broken fingers, wrists, and arms often result from falls. As people lose their balance, the normal response is to use their arms to break the fall. This action puts an extreme amount of pressure on the bones, causing breaks in the fingers, wrists, and arms.
If a person falls on their knees, hips, or shoulders, the force can cause tears in the cartilage, ligaments, or tendons.
4. Impact injuries.
Impact injuries don’t often occur when you’re shoveling alone. But if you have help from family members, getting hit by a shovel can be a risk.
If you are shoveling with another person, be aware of where they are so you don’t accidentally hit them with a shovel or get hit yourself.
5. Hand Injuries.
Gripping the handle of a shovel for an hour or more in cold temperatures can lead to hand pain. It can aggravate arthritis, ligament issues in the fingers, or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Be sure to take breaks every 20 minutes to stretch your hands, arms, and shoulders.
Frostbite is an indirect-injury that can occur while shoveling snow. Always check the wind-chill factor before you venture outside.
Dress in layers and pay attention to your body. When your fingers, toes, nose, or ears start to tingle, it’s time to go inside and warm up.
Take your time and rest when necessary. Injuries are more likely to occur when your body and your mind are tired. Taking things slow and easy can help you stay safe and injury-free.
Some techniques you can use to prevent snow shoveling injuries include:
• Shoveling early during the forecasted snowfall. Go out several times during the snowstorm and clear the driveway, walkways, and steps.
• Spreading your shoveling chore over two or three sessions will get the job done with less effort.
• Wearing sturdy boots with YakTracks™ and watching out for ice as you clear the snowy steps, sidewalks, and driveways. If ice is a problem, use sand or salt to prevent slipping.
• And if you use a snowblower, NEVER use your hands to clear snow stuck in a snowblower. That should go without saying, but every year emergency rooms in northcentral Wisconsin see patients for serious hand and finger injuries – sometimes amputations – from snowblower accidents.