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Be Smart When Clearing Old Man Winter’s Snow

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The Midwest has faced its first major winter storm, with more to follow since the winter season is just beginning. That could make for a lot of snow shoveling and the potential for serious injury.

More than 195,000 people are injured every year due to accidents from snow shoveling, with the majority of injuries affecting the back and head, along with broken bones, or heart attacks/strokes.

While most people won’t have a problem, shoveling snow can increase the risk of heart attack because of excess exertion coupled with the cold weather. It is recommended those over 55 or anyone with a previous heart-related issue get the okay from their doctor before picking up a shovel or pushing a heavy snow blower.

But, more often, snow shoveling leads to injuries caused by improper shoveling technique, especially with wet, heavy snow.

“You should take small bites with the shovel, take little loads – try not to take giant loads. Snow can be very heavy, and it’s repetitive. Try not to twist with your back, lift with your legs, and make sure you have a good working snow shovel that’s the right size for the job,” explained Dr. John Hafner, emergency medicine physician at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, who also noted it’s easy to overdo when it comes to clearing snow.

Another risk for everyone during the winter months is ice, which can cause falls leading to broken bones or even serious head injuries.

“This time of year, there’s a lot of ice, plus there’s often ice underneath the snow when there are repetitive thaw and freeze cycles. So, be very careful about hidden ice. It’s much more important to not have an injury than to worry so much about clearing things. If one can avoid it, try to stay off the ice whenever possible,” said Dr. Hafner.

He also reminds everyone to bundle up properly when heading outside, including wearing a hat and gloves in addition to layers under a coat. He cautioned that prolonged skin exposure to the cold air can cause frost bite or hypothermia in a relatively short period of time as the temperature drops.


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