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Shovel Snow Safely

Experts offer tips on how to avoid injury while performing winter task

FRIDAY, Jan. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Clearing snow from your driveway and sidewalks can be physically challenging and dangerous work, so you need to take proper health and safety precautions, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

In 2007, more than 118,000 people were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, clinics and other medical facilities for injuries suffered while shoveling or doing other types of snow and ice removal, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That same year, there were 15,000 snow blower-related injuries, triple the number in 2006.

"People tend to think of snow removal as just another household task, but it really involves a lot of bending and heavy lifting, particularly in wet snow," AAOS spokesman Dr. Robert Dunbar said in an academy news release. "It may be especially dangerous for people who do not regularly exercise, as their bodies, specifically back, shoulder and arm muscles, may not be prepared for that level of activity."

The AAOS offered advice on how to prevent injuries while shoveling or using a snow blower

  • Get your doctor's opinion about whether you should be shoveling snow. If you have a medical condition or don't exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove snow.
  • Wear light, layered, water-repellent clothing that provides both ventilation and insulation. It's also important to wear appropriate head coverings, as well as gloves/mittens and thick, warm socks. If you start getting too hot or cold, take a break.
  • Be sure you can see what you're doing. Don't wear hats or scarves that block your vision. Watch for uneven surfaces and ice patches. Wear boots with slip-resistant soles.
  • Clear snow early and often so that it doesn't build up into packed, heavy snow.
  • Before shoveling, warm up your muscles with light exercise for 10 minutes. Be sure to include your leg muscles.
  • Take frequent breaks and drink water to prevent dehydration.
  • If you experience chest pains, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency medical care.
  • Use a shovel that's comfortable for your height and strength. Don't use a shovel that's too heavy or too long for you. Push snow instead of lifting it, as much as you can. If you must lift snow, take small amounts at a time and lift with your legs. Don't throw snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.
  • When using a snow blower, never stick your hands or feet in the machine. If snow becomes too compacted, stop the engine and wait at least five seconds. Use a solid object to clear snow or debris from the chute.
  • Don't leave a snow blower unattended when it's running. If you have to leave the machine, shut off the engine.
  • If you're using an electric snow blower, always keep on eye on the cord so you don't trip and fall.

More information

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has more about winter safety.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, news release, December, 2008

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