Your Simple Guide to Avoiding Snow Shoveling and Slip and Fall Injuries

Shoveling SnowNow that winter is upon us, so is the increased risk of injury from shoveling snow and falling on ice. Every year I see so many patients who injure themselves while shoveling. Most of these injuries are preventable by following some easy steps.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, in 2014, over 200,000 people were treated for snow shoveling and ice removal injuries in emergency rooms, clinics and doctors’ offices. Sprains/strains, especially in the back and shoulders, and herniated discs are among the most common snow shoveling injuries. Other risks are exhaustion, dehydration and heart attacks.

Here’s how not to get hurt while shoveling snow:

  1. If you have a history of heart disease or are at risk, consult a physician before attempting any vigorous exercise.
  2. Warm up! Think of snow shoveling as any other form of exercise. It is always important to warm up for at least 10 minutes with dynamic stretching and light calisthenics. When done correctly, snow shoveling can actually be a great workout. Take advantage of the opportunity, but do it safely.
  3. Stay hydrated. This is always important regardless of what you’re doing. It is recommended to drink half your body weight (pounds) in ounces of water per day. For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, drink 50 ounces of water per day.
  4. Wear appropriate shoes with slip resistant rubber treads or spikes, and appropriate clothing to keep warm and dry.
  5. Take breaks when feeling tired.
  6. Use a ergonomic, S shaped shovel in which the shaft is angled. Your shovel should be comfortable and not too heavy.
  7. Space your hands to increase leverage.
  8. Push the snow instead of lifting when possible.
  9. When lifting is unavoidable, lift small loads instead of loading up the shovel. It is helpful to get out early and shovel in multiple shifts while the snow is still light. This may be inconvenient, but think of it as more time for precious physical activity with less strain on your back.
  10. Lift correctly with good technique. Do not bend or flex the lumbar spine forward while lifting. Instead, keep the spine straight and hinge/bend at the hips. The knees will naturally bend as well, but greatest amount of bending should be at the hips. The gluteal muscles are powerful and designed to handle higher amounts of stress, so use them!
  11. After lifting the small amount of light snow, walk it to where you want to dump it keeping the spine straight and shoulders squared. Avoid twisting and throwing the snow, as in throwing over the shoulder or behind the back.
  12. Avoid holding the arms out too far in front of you while holding weight. Try to keep the elbows as close to your trunk as possible, as this will minimize stress on the spine and shoulders.
  13. Stretch after finishing. Static stretching, in which stretches are held at a comfortable level of tension for at least 30 seconds, is helpful after any workout. And remember, shoveling snow is a workout!
  14. If at any point you experience chest pain or tightness, shortness of breath, jaw or shoulder pain, tingling or burning, or any other symptoms of heart attack, STOP IMMEDIATELY, call 911 and seek emergency care.

If you are already suffering from an injury or painful condition, or feel you are at risk, it is well worth it to ask someone for help or hire someone to remove the snow for you. Don’t be a hero. Avoiding the risk all together is the best way to prevent further injury.

Avoiding Slip and Fall Injuries on Ice

Slip and fall injuries are another common occurrence which can have serious consequences. These injuries can result in minor sprain/strains, fractures, bruising, severe brain and spinal cord injury. Statistics show that the majority of these injuries occur in parking lots.

The most important measure one can take, besides avoiding walking on ice/snow all together, is to wear proper footwear. I personally learned this the hard way while walking with dress shoes in an icy parking lot. Don’t take the chance! It happens so easily and so fast.

Insulated and water resistant boots with slip-resistant rubber treads are the best option for walking on icy or snowy ground. Over-shoes with rubber or spiked treads placed on regular dress shoes are another helpful option. Keeping an extra pair in the car or at work just in case of an unexpected storm is not a bad idea. You can never be too prepared.

Even when wearing the proper footwear, be sure to walk mindfully. Respect the ice! No matter how good your shoes are, walking on ice is still dangerous, so proceed with caution.

Enjoy the winter, but most of all stay healthy and safe!

Dr. Robert Inesta