This winter, Mainers are hurting.
With each winter storm, including the 7.6 inches of snow dumped Tuesday on Portland, more people are forced outside for the time-honored yet potentially injurious tradition of shoveling their driveways and sidewalks.
The effort has sent many to emergency rooms, chiropractors and other therapists for relief.
“You need to treat this like a sport,” said Dr. Caitlin Morrisroe, a chiropractor at Absolute Health Chiropractic in Portland, who said she owes about 25 percent of her workload during the winter to shoveling or snow-related ailments. “(We see) a lot of shoulder and back injuries,” she said.
Nationwide, 11,500 people seek emergency medical care each year for injuries related to snow shoveling, according to a 2011 study by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital that examined 17 years’ worth of hospital admissions nationwide. The most frequently injured body part was the lower back, which accounted for 34 percent of snow-related injuries. Hands and arms are the second most likely body parts to be injured, according to the study’s authors.
The study said the most common diagnoses were soft tissue injuries, which accounted for 55 percent of the reported injuries. Lacerations came in at 16 percent and fractures at 7 percent. Twenty percent of injuries stemmed from slipping or falling.
Cardiac-related injuries made up 7 percent of the total number of cases and were the most serious, accounting for more than half of the hospitalizations and all of the 1,647 fatalities associated with shoveling snow.
Maine Medical Center in Portland said it does not track admissions based on whether they are snow-related, and Mercy Hospital officials said they didn’t know if that was a metric tracked by emergency room doctors.
Although it’s difficult to determine if this winter’s weather has brought a disproportionate amount of injuries, meteorologists are tracking considerably more snow than usual.
So far, 76.2 inches have fallen this winter in Portland, according to the National Weather Service – ample opportunity for snow shovelers to throw out their backs or hurt their biceps. And more snow is being forecast for Wednesday.
“There is no rest for the wicked,” said meteorologist Eric Sinsabaugh of the National Weather Service in Gray. “Another storm is on its way.”
Sinsabaugh said Portland and towns in southern Maine can expect to get another 1 to 3 inches of snow Wednesday, and possibly as much as 4 inches depending on how the storm tracks.
Tuesday’s snowstorm hit hard and fast, Sinsabaugh said. By 10 p.m. Tuesday, it had begun to move up the coast and away from southern Maine. But it left plenty of snow to shovel and plow.
Cumberland Center got 9 inches, and 7.3 inches fell in South Portland, 6.3 inches in Bridgton, 9.6 inches in Kennebunk and 5.9 inches in Hollis, according to the weather service.
Local police departments reported roads were greasy and slick, especially during the evening commute. At one point on Portland’s High Street, cars were unable to drive up the steep incline, causing a traffic jam.
“There is a lot of snow out there, but the (road) crews are doing the best they can,” Lt. Gary Hutcheson of the Portland Police Department said Tuesday night.
Hutcheson spent part of his shift driving around the city. He said most drivers appeared to have complied with the overnight parking ban. He observed that city streets were narrow and lined with snowbanks.
A state police dispatcher, who had been working since 9 p.m., reported at least a dozen vehicles had slid off the Maine Turnpike and Interstate 295 since she started working.
The speed on the Maine Turnpike remained capped at 45 mph late Tuesday night.
In Sanford, a firetruck, an ambulance and a police cruiser were damaged after they slid down an icy road and collided.
The first break in the weather will come Thursday, which is expected to be sunny with highs in the 40s in Greater Portland.
That should also bring a break in the risk of shoveling injuries.
Ryan Nitz, an acupuncturist at the Maine Center for Acupuncture, said that in addition to physical pain, he frequently treats people for what he calls the “winter gloomies,” the mental weariness that accompanies a particularly bad winter.
“We’re doing some pins to try to ease that frustration of another storm coming,” he said.
As with many physical activities, age increases the possibility of sustaining new injuries or aggravating old ones, said Lou Jacobs, a Portland chiropractor. His business increases about 15 percent when there is heavy snow, he said.
The problem is consistent enough that Jacobs shows his patients a video to teach them the proper shoveling technique. Many shovelers overextend their reach, needlessly twist at the waist to toss a load of powder aside, or bend and lift with their back instead of their legs, he said. Others attempt to throw snow over their shoulder, causing shoulder strain and sprains.
Jacobs recommended holding the shovel closer to the body and turning one’s entire body to move snow, instead of twisting at the waist.
“Listening to your body is definitely a good idea,” said Jacobs, who advises stretching and warm-ups before a session with a shovel. “Treating it like you’re going to the gym is not a bad idea, either.”
And while it may not be a popular belief about moving snow, at least two hired hands in Portland are embracing their role as wielders of the shovel.
“It’s a blessing,” said Eric Sorensen, who was clearing a sidewalk in the Old Port on Tuesday afternoon. When asked if he was tired of the winter weather, he said he is thankful to be healthy enough to do the work. “It’s all relative. My outlook is of extreme gratitude,” he said.
Steve Scharaldi, who moved to Maine in November after two decades living in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, said he feels a Zen-like approach is healthiest.
“I mean, look at it, it’s beautiful,” he said, motioning to the falling flakes. “It looks so pretty where it is.”
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: