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Tips to Avoid Snow-Related Injuries

Published on: 29-Jan-2019

man shoveling snow

By Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

The simple act of shoveling can cause serious injury if you aren’t careful.  In fact, an estimated 11,500 people visit the ER each year due to snow shoveling alone. If you are fit, you are at a reduced risk, but not entirely safe. Here are three of the most common potential health risks from snow removal and how to prevent them this weekend and throughout the winter:

Heart Attack

They call it ‘heart attack snow’ for a reason. Shoveling accounts for an estimated 100 deaths per year, most due to heart attacks.  That’s because shoveling or pushing a snow blower can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate. The cold air triggers constriction of the blood vessels and decreases oxygen to the heart.


Those at risk of a heart attack during cold outdoor activities include:

  • Those with a prior heart attack
  • Those with known heart disease
  • Those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Smokers
  • Those who lead a sedentary lifestyle

Follow these tips to protect your heart: 

  • Don’t shovel right after you wake up. Wait at least 30 minutes.
  • Don’t drink coffee before or after shoveling.
  • Warm up your muscles with simple exercises before starting.
  • Work slowly and in small 15 minute increments.
  • Push the snow instead of lifting and tossing.
  • Opt for a snow blower or ask for shoveling assistance.
  • If you experience chest discomfort, shortness of breath or discomfort in your arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach could be signs of a heart attack. Seek a doctor immediately.

Back Strain

Snow shoveling is the leading cause of back and neck injuries during the snowy winter months. To protect yours, keep these tips in mind before attacking the snow:

  • Choose an ergonomic shovel with a curved handle or an adjustable handle length will minimize painful bending
  • Use a small, lightweight, plastic shovel to help reduce the weight that you are moving
  • stretch your low back and hamstrings (the large muscles in the back of the thigh) with some gentle stretching exercises.
  • Always face towards the snow pile and have your shoulders and hips squarely facing it.
  • Bend at the hips, not the low back.
  • Bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles, keeping your back straight.
  • Stop immediately if you begin to tire or feel any pain in your back or neck.

Finger Injuries from Snow Blowers

Since 2003, roughly 9,000 people have lost at least one finger to improper use of a snow blower. The most common cause is by unclogging the snow while the machine is still running.  Please follow these safety tips:

  • Use safety devices that typically come with a snow blower
  • Make sure the blades completely stop before clearing the clogged snow
  • Use an object, like a broom handle, to remove the snow