Yikes! Looks like somebody tried to swipe her Cheerios.

Which reminds me, here’s a portion of an email I received a while back that I decided to save — not because it was unusual — but because it was so typical of the type of thing I hear over and over again…

“I was 40 yrs old and I had never had any back problems prior to this incident. I had lower back discomfort beginning over 10 months ago now from what was over exerting myself while overhead lifting some sheetrock on a scaffold. Looking back I am so regretful, what a dummy that stuff was way heavy and I just got pissed off, we where trying to get this piece to fit and with all the stress in my life at the time and it being 95 plus degrees, I just lost my cool and at the moment was not thinking about my back…”

I can just see your head nodding and you’re thinking, “Yeah… been there, done that.”

And since this is something that seems to affect us all to one degree or another, I decided to look into this problem to see if there wasn’t something we could learn from it.

In a nutshell, what I found was:

  1. Anger definitely places you at risk for injury
  2. You can control how you respond
  3. Awareness of the risk seems to be the key to avoiding injury

Anger and Risk of Injury


Wouldn’t you know it? They actually did a study on this and proved what we already knew. Yes indeed, I kid you not. Researchers at the University of Missouri – Columbia (Go Mizzou) have demonstrated emphatically that blowing your top and kicking a fire hydrant is not a good idea.

God bless ’em. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely going to sleep better now that that’s settled.

But seriously, (and you know I’m always serious) they really did a very interesting study on this and came up with some rather useful observations. Not about kicking cast iron objects, but about anger and the risk factors associated with it.

What they did was survey 2,400 patients from three hospital emergency departments to determine what emotions they were feeling just prior to their injury.

Here’s what they discovered…

In case-crossover analyses, higher levels of all anger variables were significantly associated with increased injury risk among men and women combined. [1]

They then go on to give us some numbers. (These guys love numbers.)

In this study, emotions reflecting externally directed anger were common. The prevalence of anger among injured patients was as follows: 31.7% reported some degree of “irritable” just before the injury, 18.1% reported feeling “angry,” and 13.2% reported feeling “hostile”. [1]

Hang on a minute.


According to my Hello Kitty calculator, that’s over 60% of the people surveyed were feeling somewhere between irritable and downright hostile just prior to the bonehead move that earned them a ride to the ER.

That’s a lot of avoidable accidents, if you ask me. (It is an accident when you punch a wall and break your hand, isn’t it? That’s what I thought. Just checking.)

In essence, what this study discovered was that people who were feeling angry just before getting hurt faced a substantial increase in the risk of injury.

You Can Control Your Anger


Okay, let’s face it. It’s normal to get angry from time to time. There’s nothing you can do to avoid emotions (unless you’re Leonard Nimoy), but that doesn’t mean that anger has to lead to injurious behavior.

One thing the author of this study noted was that anger seldom led to injury while driving.

Hmm… Isn’t that interesting. He noted that people experiencing road rage almost never put their anger into action.


He speculated that the reason people weren’t ramming each other on the freeway was that most of us are well aware of the possible consequences. No matter how enraged we might become at the other drivers on the road, we know that it’s not worth a trip to the hospital (or the morgue).

So we yell, we fume, we make socially unacceptable gestures, but we don’t turn into Kamikaze pilots just because some bozo cuts us off on the way to work.

(California doesn’t count. They’re nuttier than Texans out there.)

Awareness of the risk, key to avoiding injury

Here’s the deal:

If we can reign in our anger on the roadway, we can do the same during life’s other stressful moments. If that piece of sheetrock doesn’t fit, take it down and try it again later. If someone at work is pushing your buttons, just walk away.

Take a breather. Think bad thoughts. Plot your revenge. But don’t act on any of it.

Instead, when you’re tempted to take your anger out on someone or something, just remind yourself of the risk factors. You can do it. You do it all the time when you’re driving.

Yell, cuss, invent new forms of sign language, but don’t kick, hit, strain or otherwise express your anger and frustration physically. It’s not worth a sore toe, a busted hand or a trip to the emergency room with a sprained back.

Okay, maybe it’s easier said than done, but I think it’s worth a try.

By the way, I believe I just found the perfect solution for rush hour traffic.




1. Vinson DC, Arelli BS, State Anger and the Risk of Injury: A Case-Control and Case-Crossover Study. Annals of Family Medicine 4:63-68 (2006)