Snowfall can be beautiful and conjure thoughts of sipping hot chocolate by the fire. Others celebrate the first flakes as the sign that ski and snowshoe season is here. All that may be true, but snowfall also means a less enjoyable chore: shoveling.
Shoveling snow is an intense activity that raises heart rate and blood pressure and is demanding on muscles and joints. According to the National Institutes of Health, shoveling snow leads to an average of 11,500 visits to the emergency room each year in the U.S. Tens of thousands of people visit their doctors for snow-removal injuries. About 100 people die each year, usually from a heart attack.
At ProFysio Physical Therapy, we are dedicated to helping people live a safe and active lifestyle. These tips may reduce your injury risk when you are shoveling sidewalks and driveways this winter.
Common Injuries from Shoveling Snow
Data analyzed by the Center for Injury Research and Policy shows the most-reported injuries are as follows:
- Soft Tissue Injuries. Muscles, tendons, ligaments are torn or strained particularly in the back, arms, and shoulders. (55 percent)
- Lacerations. Cuts from the snow shovel can happen when falling or improperly using the shovel. (16 percent)
- Fractures. Arms and hands are commonly injured when used to break a fall. (7 percent)
- Heart-Related Injuries. Overexertion can stress the heart. (7 percent)
About half of hospitalizations and all the deaths from shoveling snow were attributed to cardiovascular injuries. The heart is susceptible because cold causes blood vessels to constrict, which decreases the blood supply. Reduced blood supply combined with exertion from shoveling increases the risk for heart attack.
Avoid Injuries When Shoveling Snow
Most injuries occur from either overexertion while shoveling or slipping and falling on ice. Following these tips will reduce your chances of injury.
- Warm Up Your Muscles. Before shoveling, start with gentle exercise to increase blood flow and wake up the muscles and joints that will be used. Walking in place and moving the arms, spine, chest, and shoulders will help warm up the body and reduce the chance of strained muscles.
- Take Breaks. When there is a large amount to shovel, break the task into smaller jobs completed over the day. When you feel overheated, stop and rest. Stay hydrated by drinking water before, during, and after you shovel.
- Use Good Form. Push the snow out of the way instead of lifting it. When lifting is necessary, bend and straighten at the knees instead of bending over and straightening with the back. Don’t twist your spine and throw the snow over your shoulder. Using an ergonomically designed shovel reduces bending. Keep hands separated on the handle of the shovel to create better leverage.
- Shovel More Often. It’s easier on the body to shovel smaller amounts of snow. Don’t wait for the snow to pile up. Shovel whenever two inches of snow accumulates. This means shoveling more often, but the exertion will not be as great.
- Dress Appropriately. Dress warmly and cover your head, face, and hands. Wear non-skid, waterproof boots to reduce slips and falls. Frostbite and hypothermia are possible in cold temperatures.
Not everyone is physically fit enough to shovel. Talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to shovel. Those with certain medical conditions or who do not exercise regularly should consider hiring or asking someone else to shovel their snow.
If your young children are helping you shovel, watch them carefully. Like adults, they can injure themselves with improper shoveling techniques. They also may be tempted to use the shovel as a toy. Children are 15 times more likely than adults to be hurt from being hit with a snow shovel.
When to Seek Medical Help for Snow Shoveling Injury
If you experience chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away. Minutes can make a difference.
Minor strains can be helped with the RICE method:
Give your body time to rest so that it can properly heal. Over-the-counter pain medications can also help. When rest is not improving your condition, then make an appointment to see your doctor or schedule a free consultation with one of our physical therapists.
ProFysio Physical Therapy can help heal the injury through a variety of personalized treatments and services.
Call or use our online form to schedule a no-cost initial consultation. We have four convenient locations in the Monmouth County area: Aberdeen, East Brunswick, Edison, and Old Bridge.