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Careful out there! Snow shoveling involved in more than 10,000 U.S. hospital visits annually

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Man shoveling snowThe winter of 2010–2011 has been a good one for sledding and snowball fights, as snowstorms have dusted the U.S. from Georgia to New England to the Pacific Northwest. And Tuesday is no exception, with snowstorms forecast for much of the northern U.S.

But good news for snow lovers is not always good news for homeowners. Shoveling the sidewalk, the front steps or the driveway can be a labor-intensive hassle, and, as a new study shows, it also lands a fair number of shovelers—albeit a very small fraction of the population—in the emergency room each year.

In a 17-year study collecting data from hospitals across the country, a group of researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and the Ohio State University College of Medicine found that approximately 11,500 individuals per year in the U.S. were treated for injuries related to shoveling snow between 1990 and 2006. (The data from a representative sample of 100 hospitals were extrapolated to nationwide estimates.) The research appeared in the January issue of The American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

More than half of the injuries were from musculoskeletal exertion, and an additional 20 percent resulted from slips or falls. More than a third of the shoveling mishaps were lower-back injuries. Most injuries were relatively minor: more than 90 percent of admitted patients left without being hospitalized. But a small fraction did not fare so well—the researchers estimate that cardiac demands from snow shoveling result in some 97 deaths a year. (In the sample, all of the recorded deaths were cardiac-related.)

A five-figure tally of emergency-room visits each year from shoveling snow may sound like a lot, but it accounts for a mere 0.004 percent of the population. That is less than half the annual ER influx from sledding injuries and about one ninth the injury burden of skiing and snowboarding combined.

Image credit: © Todd Lammers/iStockphoto

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  1. 1. Opposite>Bank>Pope 3:48 am 01/19/2011

    It’s because you have such a poor equipment for the job. In Finland, where snowjob is an annual "pastime", there are shovels with proper handles (not the T-bar handles mostly seen in US), ergonomic and light snow scoops and so on. A company called Fiskars makes them. Now, I am not telling how one should do their (snow)job, but I am just pointing out a fact. For a comparison, in Finland most injuries related to snow come from that people fall down from the roofs or get buried under the snow that falls down from the roof.

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  2. 2. Bruce Voigt 5:20 pm 01/19/2011

    In wearing winter clothing, exertion causes the body to overheat. This heat, through an atomic reaction, changes water of the blood to gas manipulating the blood’s viscosity. Thicker blood is handled poorly by a weaker heart.

    The clothing of summer disperses this generated heat.

    I suggest that it is this and not anxiety that has a high percentage of FIRE MEN dying of heart related disease!

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  3. 3. Diesel67 3:59 pm 01/25/2011

    LOL @ "changes water in the blood to gas." If you’re overdressed you will sweat, and that could chill you but it’s not likely to be fatal.

    This 58-year-old shovels snow every year, for myself and sometimes for weaker or not-at-home neighbors, without a mishap, so far, praise the Lord. Running and lifting weights regularly might have something to do with it. The human organism was not designed to be sedentary, and cries out for activity.

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