Quick, how many people do you think are injured shoveling snow every year?

The number may be higher than you imagine.  According to a study recently published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, more than 11,000 American adults are sent to the ER every year with injuries directly related to shoveling snow, along with more than 700 children under the age of 19.

The study, which looked at emergency room statistics from 1990 to 2006, found that shoveling snow sent people to the ER with a variety of injuries. Some examples are  aching backs,  head injuries, broken bones and even heart problems.

Dr. Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, and the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio had this to say about the findings:

“Not only is the heart’s workload increased due to shoveling snow, but cold temperatures also add to the chances of a heart attack in at-risk individuals.”

While heart problems were the deadliest of the snow shoveling-related injuries unearthed by the study, the most common were back strains and sprains.  The unfortunate reality is that the basic design of the snow shovel hasn’t changed much over the past hundred years, and they’re not at all ergonomically designed.  Because of this, people who use them have to bend over farther, then support the added weight of snow on the shovel, which can easily lead to painful strains and sprains.

There are a few simple things you can do, however, to minimize your risk of injury:

  • Don’t just dive in, warm up first! Shoveling snow should be treated no differently than any other form of exercise.  A warm up is a must!
  • Wear proper shoes – Try to choose rubber soles with good traction so you’re less apt to slip and fall
  • Push, more than lift – Lifting the heavy shovel puts added stress and strain on your body. If you must lift, make sure to lift with your legs and not your back.
  • Pace yourself – don’t try to get it all done at once. Breaks are not just okay, but recommended!

If you keep those things in mind as you break out your winter gear and grab the shovel, you’ll go a long way toward minimizing your risk of injury.