We’ve all heard the warnings before: When shoveling snow, don’t lift or twist or go too fast. These shoveling behaviors are a recipe for back pain, spine injury or heart attack. So what should we do when the winter sky opens up? Quad City spine surgeon Scott Collins, M.D., ORA Orthopedics, says common sense should prevail.
“Snow shoveling can cause lumbar strain in your lower back,” Dr. Collins says. “It also can aggravate any preexisting condition, like a previous injury or disc degeneration. You are also more vulnerable to strain if you are not used to using your back and have weaker muscles.”
Many injuries sustained during snow shoveling are serious enough to warrant a trip to the ER. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 34,200 people were treated for snow shoveling injuries in 2012.
Dr. Collins says injuries can range from urgent to inconvenient.
“If you have chest pain, go to the ER immediately,” he says. “Most heart attacks happen during the snow shoveling season. Don’t wait.
“As for your back, if the pain shoots down your leg, or lasts longer than 7 days, see your doctor. That type of injury should be evaluated.”
How to Remove Snow Safely
Dr. Collins shares the following safety tips from The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
- Push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, take small amounts of snow, and lift with your legs: squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist.
- Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that puts stress on your back. Instead, walk to where you want to dump the snow.
- Clear snow early and often. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid having to clear packed, heavy snow.
- Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and replenish with fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care.
- Follow instructions. Prior to operating a snow blower, read the instruction manual for specific safety hazards, unfamiliar features, or for repair and maintenance.
- Never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower. If snow becomes 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.
- Keep children away. Never let children operate snow blowers. Keep children 15 years of age and younger away when snow blowers are in use.