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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

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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