Preventing Winter Injuries
Slip and falls on the ice and snow are among the most common winter injuries. While there are some common annual patterns of injuries, each year has some unique aspects, which are relevant.
This year it the snow, slush and rain compounded by the temperature fluctuations. Each cycle compresses the previous snowfall, creating a glacier-like effect. Each daily warming and cooling cycle coats the surface with water, creating a skating arena effect.
An instantaneous loss of balance and a slip can result in a broken hip, ankle or wrist. Each injury comes with significant pain, functional limitations, loss of independence and lost time from work.
There are some precautions you can take to minimize these unfortunate events:
- Plan ahead. If the weather forecast predicts bad weather, stock up on groceries and other essentials and remain indoors.
- Shovel and clear the walks. Do so early on when the snow is still powdery and has not had a chance to freeze up. A light covering of sand or salt directly on the surface is most effective. Salting a thick layer of ice wastes the salt and does not eliminate the ice.
- Your footwear is no match for the ice. Boots and rubber soled shoes are no match for black ice. High heels are not well advised. If you must be out in this weather, pay close attention to what the ground surface looks like.
- When walking on a wet icy surface, take small steps. Take your time. Walk in a crouched manner, keeping your center of gravity low. If you fall, the distance will be decreased and so will be the potential injury.
- Consider wearing gloves and avoid placing your hands in your coat pockets. If you slip, having free arms may improve your balance and potentially avoid a fall. If you do fall, dissipating the injury to the limbs may potentially avoid a more catastrophic injury, such as a hip fracture. This is consistent with the car air bag principle.
- It is tempting to walk in a beaten path as opposed to untouched snow, but in the winter, the deeper snow is less slippery.
- If you do happen to slip and fall, and suspect a fracture or broken bone, use your cell phone to call for help.
- When walking your dog, if your dog bolts, let go of the leash. He/she has a much lower center of gravity, a wider stance and, and their claws serve as traction.
- Shoveling snow causes extreme stress on you heart. There is a well-known correlation between shoveling snow and heart attacks in men over 55 years of age. If you have heart disease, diabetes, obesity or other cardiovascular risk, do yourself and your family a favor and pay the neighbor kid to shovel your driveway.
Dr. Menachem M. Meller, M.D., Ph.D., FAAOS
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