With snow finally hitting many parts of the country, it’s a good time to consider ways to avoid common injuries associated with snow removal.
The most common injuries associated with snow removal include sprains and strains, particularly in the back and shoulders. When using snow blowers, cuts and even severe damage to fingers and hands can occur if used improperly.
Although a very laborious chore at the most inconvenient time, snow removal can be good exercise. But do not underestimate the difficulty of this strenuous and sometimes dangerous activity.
You should probably check with your doctor about your ability to pursue such strenuous physical activity if you are over 40 years old. Many people lead such sedentary lives that sporadic physical activity such as snow removal can be dangerous to your health.
Clearing snow puts a lot of stress on the heart and multiple joints. Unless you are already healthy and in good physical condition you should leave this work to someone else. Almost 20,000 emergency room visits are related to shoveling snow, snow blowers, and manual ice removal in winter.
Working in cold wet slippery conditions where it may be hard to use good body mechanics can only lead to problems. Be sure you are equipped properly. This starts with your clothing. Dressing in layers to achieve adequate insulation and ventilation in the cold is important. Appropriate hat and gloves can protect against cold and rough work. Warm insulating socks and shoes that have slip-resistant soles are also important.
Warming up your muscles with some light activity before you start is important to all exercise activities. Snow removal takes a slow steady pace, so don’t be in a hurry. Take frequent breaks, it is very strenuous work. Staying well hydrated is easily overlooked in cold weather. You will probably work up a sweat even though it may be frigid outside.
Use a snow shovel in good condition that is comfortable for your size and height. Go slowly, picking up small amounts of snow each time. Be attentive to good lifting technique. Avoid bending at the waist and let your legs do more of the work. While staying more upright, abs and back engaged, bend the knees in a slight squat, feet about shoulder width apart to lift safely and efficiently. Stay close to the snow you are lifting while avoiding complete arm extension.
When possible you may be able to push the snow off to the side with your shovel without actually lifting. In deep snow, remove small amounts with your shovel starting at the top of the pile, not at the bottom. Maintain an awareness of your surroundings and the ground on which you are working. Be cautious about hidden objects buried in the snow or working on uneven surfaces.
Snowblowers need close attention and familiarity with your machine. Some things to remember:
- Do not modify or tamper with any of the machine’s safety features.
- Add fuel and do other maintenance only when the machine is completely off.
- Do not leave a running machine unattended.
- When a machine jams or clogs, never stick hands in the snowblower. Stop the engine and wait at least 5 to 10 seconds for the blades to stop moving.
- Beware of recoil when the machine is stopping.
- Use a long solid object to remove ice or debris from the machine. Remember the engine remains quite hot even though you are working in the cold.
- If you are using an electric snowblower know where the cord is at all times. Keep children away from the machine and the work area.
With some common sense steps you can avoid back injury or worse while clearing a path for your winter needs and enjoyment. Stay warm and stay safe.
Dr. Bruce Kaler