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Local Doctor Explains Health Risks of Shoveling Snow

Here are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid injury when shoveling snow.

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.
Shoveling or removing snow in extremely low temperatures, without taking the proper precautions, can be more dangerous than you might expect.

“There’s a pretty significant risk of injury with shoveling snow that people don’t really think about,” said Oakwood Emergency physician Ryan Seaman, DO, of Oakwood Hospital & Medical Center in Dearborn.

From a pulled muscle to a heart attack, there are a lot of ways to get injured when working yourself too hard shoveling snow.

Here are a few tips from Dr. Seaman on how to avoid these unnecessary injuries:

Take Breaks Often:
-Activities performed in this weather can lead to an increase in accidents and heart attacks, Dr. Seaman said. A good way to avoid over-exerting yourself is taking regularly breaks to let your body warm up and rest.

“Everyone should warm up before they go out there, so they aren’t shoveling with sudden exertion," he said. "If they’re tired or experience any chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, jaw pain or other symptoms they should stop and take a break and contact a doctor right away.” 

Use Proper Lifting Techniques:
-The lower back is the most commonly injured body part during snow removal. While shoveling snow, always be sure to use proper lifting techniques that avoids straining back and shoulder muscles.

Watch Out for Frostbite: 
-With such extremely low temperatures, the wind has the capacity to whip heat away from your skin causing frostbite fairly quickly. In fact, any part of the skin that remains exposed to the air can get frostbitten within a half hour in weather like this, Dr. Seaman said.

“Cover all the tips – fingers, toes, nose and other extremities," he said. "Wear a hat, gloves, and plenty of layers. Also wear sturdy boots with a good sole.”

Doctors at Oakwood Hospital see multiple winter-weather injuries every single year, according to Paula Rivera-Kerr, media relations manager for Oakwood Healthcare.

"Today alone, we saw a few incidents of slips and falls and two chest pain cases related to snow shoveling," she said in an email.

Additionally, there may be an increased number of musculoskeletal injuries as the week continues and residents begin removing the large amounts of snow received during the snowstorm, Dr. Seaman anticipates.

Click here for more winter-weather safety tips.
Lee Jacobsen January 07, 2014 at 01:41 AM
Good tips, here's another. An easy way to shovel a driveway is to use a 'C' motion, with your feet spread wide apart for support. Much like the snow plows, this puts the shovel at an angle and never really loads up the shovel, except at the end, where you use the momentum to lift the shovel, and snow, off the driveway at an oblique angle, causing very little stress on one's back. The 'C' motion is good for one side of the driveway. Repeat the process, switching hands to get a workout on both sides, for the other side of the driveway. Once you get a rhythm going, the driveway is shoveled in no time.

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