Tips to Prevent Snow Shoveling and Snow Blowing Injuries

Cleaning up mounds of snow can cause more pain than just a headache. While this seasonal activity may seem mundane, it can also be dangerous. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), in 2005 there were 27,168 injuries related to the use of snow shovels, snow blowers, snow throwers, and ice removal tools. Injuries range from lacerations and bone fractures to finger amputations. The potential for an orthopaedic injury is high, even you shovel or snowblow only once or twice a year. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) offers the following tips for safe snow clearing:

  • Check with your doctor. Because this activity places high stress on the heart, you should always speak with your doctor before shovelling or snow blowing. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove the snow.
     
  • Be sure you can see what you are shovelling/blowing. Do not let a hat or scarf block your vision. Watch for ice patches and uneven surfaces.
     
  • Warm-up your muscles. Shovelling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin this physical workout, warm-up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.
     
  • Pace yourself. Snow shovelling and blowing are aerobic activities. Take frequent breaks and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, stop shovelling/blowing and seek emergency care. Calling 9-1-1.
     
  • A snowblower is a terrific piece of machinery but if not used correctly you can strain or injure your back. Snowblowers are designed to remove snow at a particular rate of speed. Pushing or forcing the equipment to go faster is defeating its purpose - to do the work for you!
     
  • Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
     
  • Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, do it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once. Do it in pieces.
     
  • Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.
     
  • Try to clear snow early and often. Begin shoveling/blowing when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid dealing with packed, heavy snow.

Written by Guillaume Hamel