shovel snowWith winter in full swing, it’s time to start thinking about staying safe during the colder months. Winter brings a unique set of risks that need to be kept in mind. Nearly everyone knows the dangers of slipping on ice and has heard of the “winter blues,” but one of the most dangerous aspects of winter is snow shoveling. Most people see it as simply a nuisance that needs to be dealt with, but every year, many people suffer from injuries due to snow shoveling without taking safety precautions.

The types of injuries that can result from snow shoveling include strains and sprains. They occur most commonly in the neck, shoulders, arms, or lower back. Many people don’t realize how much snow weighs, with the heaviest, densest snow weighing up to 20 pounds per cubic foot. If you’re shoveling a foot of snow from sidewalks and a driveway, then chances are you’re working for multiple hours and throwing thousands of pounds of snow around. The average person has a difficult time handling this kind of workout and may suffer a serious injury as a result. In addition, slips and falls happen easily while shoveling snow. They can lead to other injuries, such as sprains and fractures of hands, wrists and ankles.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid injury while shoveling this winter:

Trade your old shovel for something sturdier: When shopping for a new shovel, avoid shovels that lack hand grips. In addition, make sure that they are comfortable to hold, and not too long or short. Choose a lightweight shovel, so it doesn’t add much weight to the already heavy snow. Finding a shovel that is right for your body type can minimize the need to bend over, twist your body, or overexert yourself, as those actions can hurt your spine. Many shovels have adjustable lengths or are designed with a curved shaft, which helps to reduce the risk of injury.

Shovel in a straight line: Always avoid tossing show over your shoulder, since you need to twist your body to do so. Instead, shovel straight ahead, pushing the snow instead of lifting it whenever possible. Don’t pick up snow and walk it long distances, and only shovel the bare minimum area needed for a safe passageway for cars or pedestrians.

Protect against slips: Wear slip-resistant boots, avoid treading on icy areas, and always walk as slowly as possible on snow. Lay down salt and sand as you walk, to help get a grip and melt ice.

If you find yourself sore after shoveling, there are a few things you can do. Often times, for very minor injuries, rest, icing the injured area, elevating, and compressing the injury (the RICE method) and taking an anti-inflammatory can help with pain. However, if you are in serious pain, unable to move, or find that your pain isn’t going away after a few days, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor can determine whether your injury is more serious than just a strain, and also prescribe helpful stretches you can do to minimize your risk of further injury.

It’s always important to remember that shoveling snow is an intense workout, and if you already suffer from pain in the back, hips, knees, shoulders, or elbows, you shouldn’t shovel snow. Stay safe this winter, minimize bending and twisting, and always use the proper snow removal equipment. If you do suffer from strain or pain after shoveling snow, Hampton Roads Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine is available to help. Contact us at (757) 873-1554 for an appointment and our team of providers will get you back to feeling great!