Winter season brings heightened injury risks

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012 6:48 p.m. MST

Corey Cluff shovels snow from his driveway Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, in American Fork.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Shoveling the sidewalk. Blazing a trail with a snowblower. Even walking the dog.

They're activities that are a regular part of winter life in Utah, but doctors say they're also regular causes of weather-related injuries.

“We see a lot of back injuries from shoveling snow,” Alta View Hospital emergency room doctor Bruce Argyle said Wednesday. “You get the summer off, get it de-conditioned.  Then you start shoveling heavy snow, and your back hurts. … We see a lot of people coming in with slipped discs, back strains due to shoveling snow."

Emergency rooms frequently see spikes in weather-related injuries after winter storms, though doctors say it's difficult to predict which storms will produce more problems.

They aren't just talking about injury car crashes and exposure injuries from the cold.  They also see broken wrists, hip fractures and even head injuries from falls.

“People are careful when there's a lot of snow, but then a couple days later, as the snow turns to ice, that's when people start to slip and fall down,” Argyle said.

Some injuries involve falling off roofs while clearing snow or while trying to clear snowblower blades.

“Going from a snow shovel to a snowblower trades one type of injury for another,” Argyle said. “If you can keep your fingers out of the snowblower, you're going to do fine. But we do see a lot of people trying to clean up a jammed snowblower, and they take off a tip of a finger.”

If that sounds extreme, it probably doesn't to Avenues resident Sarah Munro.

“My husband got a little too close to the blade and lost part of his finger,” she said.

Munro was spotted Wednesday with a shovel, instead of a snowblower.

“Nobody's gotten hurt so far, which we hope will continue to be the case,” she said.

Conversely, a man on another Avenues street was using a sharp-bladed snowblower.

“I try to be real careful,” Doug Moore said. “I know it can happen.”

Moore was also trying not to fall, something the snow and ice make more likely.

Argyle warned of the dangers for people with balance problems.

“It makes good sense that if you don't have good balance, then you're going to be in trouble,” he said. “I find that as I've gotten older, I'm a little more careful walking out to pick up the paper on the driveway than I used to be.”

Adele Kimbrough was trying to navigate a somewhat steep grade with her dog.

“I was actually worried about going down this hill because if my dog pulls me, it makes it easy to slip,” Kimbrough said. “I slipped once already and kind of pulled myself.”

Doctors are trying to preach common sense to those who will listen.

For those who shovel, Argyle is reminding to bend with the knees and throw with the arms — rather than doing both with the back.

He urges anybody walking in the snow to wear shoes with good soles that provide traction.

“People think of getting snow tires on their car, but they never think of getting snow shoes so they don't slip and fall on the ice,” Argyle said. “A lot of people we see are wearing shoes that are great for the summer but not really appropriate for walking on ice.”

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

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