Tips to Avoid Snow-Related Injuries

man shoveling snow

By Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

The simple act of shoveling can cause serious injury if you aren’t careful.  In fact, an estimated 11,500 people visit the ER each year due to snow shoveling alone. If you are fit, you are at a reduced risk, but not entirely safe. Here are three of the most common potential health risks from snow removal and how to prevent them this weekend and throughout the winter:

Heart Attack

They call it ‘heart attack snow’ for a reason. Shoveling accounts for an estimated 100 deaths per year, most due to heart attacks.  That’s because shoveling or pushing a snow blower can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate. The cold air triggers constriction of the blood vessels and decreases oxygen to the heart.


Those at risk of a heart attack during cold outdoor activities include:

  • Those with a prior heart attack
  • Those with known heart disease
  • Those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Smokers
  • Those who lead a sedentary lifestyle

Follow these tips to protect your heart: 

  • Don’t shovel right after you wake up. Wait at least 30 minutes.
  • Don’t drink coffee before or after shoveling.
  • Warm up your muscles with simple exercises before starting.
  • Work slowly and in small 15 minute increments.
  • Push the snow instead of lifting and tossing.
  • Opt for a snow blower or ask for shoveling assistance.
  • If you experience chest discomfort, shortness of breath or discomfort in your arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach could be signs of a heart attack. Seek a doctor immediately.

Back Strain

Snow shoveling is the leading cause of back and neck injuries during the snowy winter months. To protect yours, keep these tips in mind before attacking the snow:

  • Choose an ergonomic shovel with a curved handle or an adjustable handle length will minimize painful bending
  • Use a small, lightweight, plastic shovel to help reduce the weight that you are moving
  • stretch your low back and hamstrings (the large muscles in the back of the thigh) with some gentle stretching exercises.
  • Always face towards the snow pile and have your shoulders and hips squarely facing it.
  • Bend at the hips, not the low back.
  • Bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles, keeping your back straight.
  • Stop immediately if you begin to tire or feel any pain in your back or neck.

Finger Injuries from Snow Blowers

Since 2003, roughly 9,000 people have lost at least one finger to improper use of a snow blower. The most common cause is by unclogging the snow while the machine is still running.  Please follow these safety tips:

  • Use safety devices that typically come with a snow blower
  • Make sure the blades completely stop before clearing the clogged snow
  • Use an object, like a broom handle, to remove the snow

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The Future of Football Head Protection and Equipment Technologies

Dr. Brian Cole and Steve Kashul talk with Thad Ide, Senior VP of Research and Product Development for Riddell, about recent innovations in the future of football head protection and equipment technologies.

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An Inside Look Into Flexor Tendon Injuries

By: Brian Rog and Julianne Lessard, OTR/L,CHT for ATI Physical Therapy

An Inside Look Into Flexor Tendon Injuries

Our hands and fingers are among the most important assets to our body, so an injury, specifically to the hand’s control center, the flexor tendon, can open the door to a lengthy and exhausting road to recovery. If you are not familiar with the flexor tendon system, it consists of strong cords of tissue that connect the muscles of the forearm, through the wrist, and across the palm to the tips of the fingers and thumb. All four fingers connect to one primary muscle, which is responsible for controlling the middle knuckles and another muscle that controls the fingertips.

Flexor tendons are essential in enabling movement in the fingers and allow us to engage in simple activities like writing, holding a coffee cup, holding hands and zipping a coat. Unfortunately, this often overlooked muscle group can be damaged in an instant, so it’s important not to discount its value and susceptability to injury.

Injuries to the flexor tendons can happen so quickly that the individual affected by it does not have time to comprehend the severity of the damage. It’s important to know that almost any injury to the palm-side of the hand will involve the flexors.

When an injury does occur, more often than not, the cause of the injury is traumatic and can be be caused by something as simple as a laceration from the tip of a knife while cutting a vegetable, or a bit more harrowing such as a major contact injury from a table saw.

There are also closed inuries such as jersey finger that can result when a player grabs another player’s jersey as they pull away. The affected area mostly involves the tip of the finger, which is prone to avulsions and laceration injuries to the tendons.

Another common closed injury involving the covering of the tendons called sheaths can also occur. These are caused by overuse or strain and are usually categorized as tendonitis. Symptoms here are more subtle with a deep ache and sometimes a triggered or locked finger. Hand Therapy and an orthosis or brace can often help reduce swelling, however, in some cases, an injection or surgery is needed.

The good news in all of this is that treatment for a hand injury can be effective, but here’s the caveat, as we mentioned, it’s a tiring process, which will most likely require a surgical procedure, followed by a recovery period that can extend for several months and on. So do yourself a favor and keep your hands out of harms way – we know, it’s easier said than done.

There’s no denying that minor accidents will occur from time to time, so the more you know, the better you can prepare. If you have sustained an injury to your hand and are unsure of the steps needed to get back to life before the injury, stopy by your nearest ATI Physical Therapy clinic and ask our team for a complimentary injury screening. Our team will assess your injury, provide next step suggestions in care and get you on your way!

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Matthew’s Story

Matthew Lee, 22, of Oak Park, discovered his passion for playing lacrosse at a youngmatthew lee age. Although he also excelled in baseball and tennis, it was the ‘brotherhood’ of lacrosse that drew him into the sport.  Playing lacrosse gave him a supportive foundation throughout his years at Oak Park River Forest High School and when it was time to make college decisions, his love of lacrosse played a big part. He enrolled at Beloit College in Beloit, WI and joined its NCAA Division III lacrosse team.

College life and lacrosse were going very well for Matthew until his spring break trip to Washington, DC his sophomore year. This was a special time during which the team had an opportunity to scrimmage against the U.S. Naval Academy. While attempting a shot on goal, Matthew fell on his hand and wrist. He immediately felt a ‘pop’ followed by intense pain and swelling. To his disappointment, the team’s trainer had to sideline him for the rest of the trip.

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After returning to Wisconsin, he was evaluated at a local hospital where he was diagnosed with a fracture to the scaphoid bone, one of several small bones in the wrist. He was casted for six months and then underwent occupational therapy. It was tough time, but he looked forward to returning to lacrosse.

A Second Opinion

Unfortunately, after the cast was removed, he still felt pain and an unusual grinding sensation in his wrist. Matthew felt something was still wrong and his mother insisted they get a second opinion. After researching several specialists, they chose Dr. John Fernandez, a hand, wrist, and elbow specialist at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. They liked Dr. Fernandez’s reputation for treating high level athletes and for performing particularly challenging cases.  Coincidentally, Dr. Fernandez also has three sons who play lacrosse and is a big fan of the sport himself. He immediately connected with Matthew and understood his frustration.

Dr. Fernandez carefully assessed Matthew’s wrist.  He used simple measures like examining the normal side which no one had done previously.  He also used high-tech techniques including examining his wrist under a live video xray to see what the wrist was doing in real time and under stress. This led to the discovery that Matthew hadn’t suffered a wrist fracture at all.  Instead, he had torn a very important ligament in the wrist.

This ligament is a crucial connection between the carpal bones in the wrist. Without it healing, Matthew would likely have continued problems, including long term arthritis and disability.  This would make it hard for him to use his hand for simple tasks, much less playing lacrosse. He explained that Matthew needed surgery to repair the torn ligament and restore function. This was devastating news because it meant more time away from lacrosse.


“Even though it was tough to hear that the casting period was a waste of time, Dr. Fernandez and his amazing physician assistants were so helpful throughout the whole process.”


Dr. Fernandez recommended a technically demanding and unusual surgery to reconstruct the scapholunate ligament of the wrist. This required transplanting one of Matthew’s tendons to replace the ligament he had lost.  Stainless steel pins would be used across the bones to maintain alignment during the recovery process. This cutting-edge technique was designed for higher demand individuals with and a better success rate.

Complicating matters further, before his surgery Matthew fell and injured his other wrist. This time he truly did fracture his scaphoid bone.  But, instead of casting it, Dr. Fernandez suggested a method of repairing the bone internally with a screw. This would then act as an internal cast and decrease healing time.

Now, the stakes were higher. Matthew required a staged surgical approach so that he could use one of wrists during the healing process, but not compromise the outcome. Several surgeries and nine months of recovery were needed to make this work.  Dr. Fernandez and Matthew confidently agreed to take this plan head on. As hoped, the surgeries were successful and Matthew’s recovery was smooth.  Finally, eighteen months after his initial injury, Matthew was functioning well and pain free. He finally scored his ‘goal’ — with Dr. Fernandez making the assist.

Back on the Field

Dr. John Fernandez

Dr. John Fernandez

After a long time away from lacrosse, Matthew was able to join his teammates back on the field during his senior year. “I was able to score over 25 points this season and could not be more thankful to Dr. Fernandez, his PAs, and MOR for making my senior year a great one to remember,” he says.

During this process, Matthew received a unique look into the practice of orthopedics and expressed an interest in a career as a physician assistant. Dr. Fernandez admits that he has seen this happen before and encouraged Matthew to follow his passion. He hopes that one day Matthew will be able to pay it forward by performing a surgical assist of his own to help someone else score their goals.


To schedule an appointment with Dr. John Fernandez, call 877-MD-BONES.

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