Shovels and Aspirin:Emergency Rooms, Chiropractors Busy With Snow Injuries

There’s no doubt the recent snow cavalcade has taken its toll on the general attitude of most folks, but health care providers report that it has also taken quite a toll on the physical well being of young and old.

On a typical day in the Chelsea MGH Urgent Care, Dr. Brent Ragar might see two or three broken bones or wrist sprains, but in the last few weeks the rule has been to double those numbers.

“We actually have seen a lot more than normal in several instances related to the snow,” he said last Friday. “There’s been a good amount of broken bones and broken fingers. We’ve had a lot of broken feet and ankles from slip and falls too. There have also been several injuries related to snowblowers, cuts and bruises. Of course there are also many lower back injuries and muscle strains that have come in. There are actually a lot of folks who have to shovel snow for their job and have been injured in the course of that. We’re definitely seeing more of this kind of thing than we normally do.”

Meanwhile, at the Whidden Hospital Emergency Room, the story is pretty much the same.

“It’s definitely the case that the snow storms have triggered more injuries here,” said Dr. Joe Butash, of the Whidden ER. “We’ve really had a lot of injuries involving children – slip and falls. However, it seems to have affected young and old alike. I’ve seen children 2 and 3 years old with snow-related injuries and adults up to age 92. Definitely, there are a lot of injuries related to shoveling – wrist injuries and back spams. The other thing we’ve noticed is injuries involving plows – individuals struck by plows or those doing the plowing. Even individuals not directly involved in shoveling or working on the road have had issues…We’ve even seen people with dislocated elbows.”

Agar of MGH added there have been many motor vehicle crashes that resulted in injuries that can also be attributed to the snow.

“We’ve definitely had a lot more car accidents,” he said. “We’ve seen more of them than normal. Certainly a lot of people are coming in after behind hit from behind by another car.”

But by and large, it’s the shoveling injuries that have filled the waiting rooms.

At Essential Chiropractic in Revere, Dr. Anthony Gamble said he has one great solution for shoveling.

“There is no good way to shovel,” he said. “The best way we’ve found is to find some young kid in the neighborhood and pay him to do it. That’s the only way to avoid injury. We only have to shovel in a normal year for about two weeks. We never get used to it and don’t train our muscles for it. So, we end up relying on our lower back muscles instead of our legs, which results in an injury. The best advice is to take your time. Do a little at a time; take a break, and then go back to do more. People tend to want to just push through it though and get it done. Even if you do it the right way, you’re going to feel it because you’re using muscles you haven’t used.”

Gambale said the treatment for a sore back is contrary to what many might think. The common sense cure is an anti-inflammatory, like Motrin, and a hot back or a hot pack. Instead, Gamble said you have to fight inflamed muscles with – of all things – ice.

“When people are hurting they want to put heat on it,” he said. “The last thing they want to do after coming in from the cold is put ice on their back. Ice is the best because the lower back muscles are inflamed. As unappealing as it may be, ice is the best way to fight inflammation. The anti-inflammatory and heat makes you feel good for a bit, but it goes right back. Bite the bullet and put ice on it because if you keep injuring it over and over, you’ll end up with a permanent problem.”

He said the best way is to apply ice for 10 to 20 minutes intermittently.

Finally, of course, Gambale said the snow injuries and aches are likely to drive a lot of folks to his office, and he is expecting a rush of patients in the next few weeks.

“It does seem to be a good re-activator for old patients,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for; to help people get back on track. Right now, everybody is just trying to get everyday stuff done, but the slip and falls, the digging out and the car accidents – that’s going to take a few weeks. You might feel like your fine now, but in a good week or two, the whole inflammation sets in and the pain begins. That’s usually when we begin to see more patients.”

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