Risks for injury in snow: Shoveling and falling

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The most significant winter hazard we think of is driving, but there is significant risk of injury or hospitalization from falls and from shoveling snow.

Year round, injuries from falling put people in the hospital: Spectrum Health Butterworth saw more than 1,000 fall victims between September 1, 2015, and September 30, 2016. Many people were hospitalized up to four days.

We’ve seen deaths secondary to falls, we’ve seen severe injuries that require prolonged hospital stays and prolonged ICU stays," said trauma surgeon Alistair Chapman.

How do you avoid falling in winter? Laura Maclam, injury prevention outreach coordinator at Butterworth says traction is the key, and you'll find more of it walking on packed snow than trying to walk on ice. And your shoes or boots can be important.

Plus, falls can lead to hypothermia, Maclam says. "We’ve had several patients ship and fall remain out in the cold for a long period of time because no one knew where they were at."

Your fitness or level of activity contributes to your balance and mobility to prevent falls or react when conditions are slippery.

Fitness can also contribute to your ability to shovel snow. If you aren't very active, you have an increased risk of heart attack while shoveling snow. Signs of a heart attack include chest discomfort and shortness of breath. If you feel those symptoms while shoveling snow, stop immediately and call for help.

To reduce the chance of problems, use a smaller shovel, take frequent breaks, and wait to shovel snow after a big meal.

"So the best thing we recommend is remaining active, knowing your own limits, wearing good solid footwear, eating a balanced healthy diet, staying well hydrated," said Maclam.

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