On a recent sunny day—the first after a long stretch of rain—Timothy Strobel decided to mow his lawn. Within minutes he was stuck in the mud. Pulling hard while leaning back to gain better leverage, he struck his head so hard on a window air conditioner that he knocked himself out. When he woke up he was unable to move his arms or legs. He’s just one of many who have suffered a mowing-related injury. In 2010, more than 200,000 Americans were treated for a lawn-mower injury, a rising tally, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and three other medical societies.
Timothy, a patient of mine, had suffered a spinal cord injury, and a severe concussion. While he’s now feeling much better, he does feel foolish for mowing the lawn when it was wet. It’s not just the mud that makes it unsafe. Wet clippings can clog the discharge chute and jam the blade. Removing the grass without first shutting off the engine and making sure the blades have stopped can cause serious injury. And a recent Consumer Reports survey found that many people don’t take other safety precautions when mowing the lawn: 77 percent of us don’t wear hearing protection against the noise exposure; 54 percent wear shorts, leaving our legs vulnerable to injury from thrown objects, and bee stings from disturbed ground hives; and 14 percent mow in flip flops or sandals.
“As an orthopedic surgeon, a call from the ER to come tend to a lawn-mower accident is one of the worst calls I can possibly get,” said Victor Khabie, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. He explained that lawn-mower accidents tend to cause severe fractures and bone loss as well as significant damage to arteries, nerves, tendons and skin that are hard to reconstruct. Worse yet, the injuries are often contaminated by dirt or fertilizer making the risk of infection high, even if the extremity can be salvaged. “Some of the most severe injuries I’ve seen have occurred in individuals who had little or no protection to their feet,” said Dr. Khabie.
That’s why it’s essential to wear sturdy shoes when mowing, and to never mow when the lawn is wet. For more tips, see our article on 13 steps toward safer lawn mowing.
—Orly Avitzur, MD