Winter is here, and it’s time to get ready to confront the snow. As we gear up to clear our driveways and sidewalks, it’s essential to remember that shoveling and blowing snow can be physically demanding activities that can result in various orthopedic injuries if not performed safely.
Now, we all understand that the weather here in Michigan can at times be a bit unpredictable…from a dusting of snow to upwards of a few inches…or maybe even feet! Stay on the alert-we usually have snow continuing to trickle in through April.
As the snow continues to come in stages this winter, you will be busy clearing your walks and driveways, I urge you to take a minute to review the following safety tips – they might just help you sustain from injury this season. Just a few years ago, I threw out my back while shoveling snow, injuries can absolutely happen while shoveling and blowing snow.
While shoveling and blowing snow, there is a range of “sports medicine” and other orthopedic injuries that can happen. When patients visit my office I see a lot of twisted knees, messed up shoulders, aching elbows, hurt wrists, sprained ankles, and sore backs. As for Beaumont’s emergency room, they see patients with injuries such as lacerations, missing fingers, and a variety of fractures from falls.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it is estimated that nearly 6,000 people sustain injuries from snow blowers ALONE each year.
To ensure you have a safe and healthy winter, here are some tips from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:
- Consult with your doctor: Before you begin shoveling or snow-blowing, speak with your physician, especially if you have a medical condition or don’t exercise regularly. This activity can put significant stress on the heart, so it’s essential to take precautions.
- Dress appropriately: Wear light, water-resistant clothing that provides both insulation and ventilation. Additionally, don’t forget to cover your head, wear warm gloves or mittens, and thick socks.
- Watch where you’re shoveling/blowing: Make sure your vision isn’t obstructed by a hat or scarf.
- Watch for ice patches and uneven surfaces: Avoid falls by wearing boots with good tread and slip-resistant soles. Be wary of “black ice”, as these patches of ice tend to be extremely slippery.
- Warm up your muscles: Shoveling can be a strenuous activity, so warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise before starting.
- Pace yourself: Snow shoveling and blowing are like playing a sport or working out at the gym. Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care immediately.
- Use a shovel that’s comfortable: Choose a shovel that’s the right height and weight for you and space your hands on the grip to increase leverage.
- Lift properly: When lifting snow, squat with legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs, not your back. Scoop small amounts of snow and walk to where you want to dump it. Never remove deep snow all at once-conduct removal in small increments.
- Avoid twisting motions: Don’t throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side, as this can strain your back.
- Clear snow early and often: Start when there’s a light covering of snow on the ground to avoid shoveling heavy, packed snow.
If you’re using a snow blower:
- Add fuel before starting: Never add fuel when the engine is running or hot. Do not operate the snow blower in an enclosed area.
- Don’t put your hands in the snow blower: If snow becomes compacted, stop the engine, and wait five seconds before clearing it with a solid object. Be cautious of the recoil from the motor/blades after the machine has been turned off
- Watch the cord: If you’re using an electric snow blower, be always mindful of the power cord’s location.
- Don’t leave the machine unattended: If you need to walk away from the snow blower, shut off the engine, especially if there are kids around.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to confront the snow safely and confidently this winter. Have a safe and healthy winter!
For more information on innovative treatments and education, visit www.unasourcesurgery.com
Dr. Joseph Guettler is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, as well as surgery of the knee, shoulder, and elbow. His office is located in Bingham Farms, MI. Visit www.miorthosurgeons.com for more information on Dr. Guettler and his practice, Michigan Orthopaedic Surgeons.