Although summer can be a big season for injuries, winter certainly holds its own in that department. From frostbite and hypothermia, to burns and bruises, cold weather is hard on our bodies and brings its own potential injuries.
The risk of slipping and falling is at peak level during the winter when the ground becomes slick with ice. Injuries resulting from falls on ice are common. But how can you prevent ice-related injuries from happening in the first place? Read on for tips on how to stay safe in icy conditions.
What are the most common slip and fall injuries?
The accident that most frequently lands people in the emergency room or orthopedic urgent care during this season is slipping on ice.
Wintertime slips and falls can result in sprains, strains, dislocations and even fractures of the wrist, elbow, ankle, hip and shoulder. Neck, head and back injuries can also occur, including concussions.
Seniors and people with mobility challenges are at highest risk for winter falls
Older adults and anyone with an existing mobility impairment can have difficulty walking in icy conditions and may face more risk in doing so. Anyone older than 65 has a higher chance of serious injury from slipping and falling, and should take extra cautionary measures. People currently taking blood thinners can also be seriously hurt from falls, especially if they hit their head.
For more information on how TRIA helps those 65 years and older avoid falls, check out our Fall Prevention and Balance Program.
How to fall the right way
Sometimes there’s no avoiding a fall, but there are things you can do during and immediately after falling to lessen the likelihood of serious injury. It’s hard to plan this type of reaction because we rarely have time to think while falling, but keep these tips in mind.
- Relax your whole body: It’s common to tense up while falling and throw your arms out to catch yourself, but try not to. Taking the full impact of a fall on your hands and wrists can seriously injure them. Imagine your body is a sack of grain – curl in slightly and let yourself drop.
- Fall sideways: Take the impact in places that have extra padding, like your butt or, ideally, the side of your thigh. You’ll likely still end up with bruises, but you’ll drastically reduce the chances that you’ll break a bone. If you can, throw out your forearm to distribute the weight of your fall more evenly along your side.
- Protect your head: Your head is the most important part of your body to protect in a fall. When falling, tuck your chin into your chest or, if falling forward, turn your head to the side. You can also raise your arms and shoulders to provide cushion for your skull.
- Take aim: If you can, direct your fall into a snowy or grassy area for a softer landing. However, avoid falling into snow so deep that you can’t tell what’s underneath it.
- Pay attention to your body after a fall: Many people get right back up after falling, either by instinct or because they’re embarrassed. However, you can’t always tell if you’ve hurt yourself immediately after a fall, especially in the cold. Standing up and walking too soon can aggravate any injury you may have just gotten. After falling, take a moment to lie still on the ground and assess how you feel.
How to treat slip and fall injuries at home
Many injuries from a slip and fall can be treated at home by following the RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. For the first 24-48 hours after a fall, ice the injured area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day.
If it’s a limb, keep it elevated as much as possible. This can help decrease any immediate bruising and swelling. Also, keep your body moving, but don’t overdo it. You can also apply heat if it brings you some relief.
When to see a doctor
Go to the emergency room right away if you hit your head and lost consciousness. If you hit your head and did not lose consciousness, but are currently taking blood thinners, head to urgent care or contact your primary care doctor right away for next steps.
- Your pain hasn’t improved within 24-48 hours of falling, even after resting and icing the area, and taking pain relievers.
- Your range of motion begins to decline, and you can’t move the injured area or limb as easily or without pain.
- The area doesn’t look right, whether due to swelling or bone deformation. But a broken bone can be subtle, especially in children.
- Your daily activities and tasks are interrupted or impossible for you to complete because of pain.
Go to orthopedic urgent care or the emergency room right away if you hit your head and lost consciousness. If you hit your head and did not lose consciousness, but are currently taking blood thinners, you’re at risk for a brain bleed and will need to visit the ER immediately.
Winter can be a time to experience different forms of exercise, to try out new sports, or to relax and rejuvenate in preparation for warmer days ahead. No matter how you decide to spend your winter, if you live in the Upper Midwest, you’ll eventually encounter ice. Cold weather injuries can make the winter season much more difficult – avoid them with the following tips:
Keep your hands free
It’s tempting to stuff your hands in your jacket pockets while outside in cold weather, but doing so can rob you of some of your best tools for keeping your balance. Wear gloves instead and hold your arms out at your sides. Try to avoid walking on ice when your arms are full of bags or other items.
Choose appropriate footwear
On icy days, opt for shoes designed to keep you on your feet. Buy shoes with built-in grip or attach traction cleats (like Yaktrax) to your regular winter boots or other shoes you already own before heading out on a winter stroll.
Walk like a penguin
If your path looks icy, take small shuffling steps that keep both feet in constant contact with the ground. Avoid hunching forward, no matter how cold it is. Keep your feet underneath your torso and hold your arms out and slightly elevated at your sides for balance.
It’s always important to look at the ground ahead of where you’re walking, but especially when you’re walking on slippery sidewalks. Avoid distractions like texting and focus only on walking so you can see those slick or uneven areas.
Avoid ice altogether
Try to avoid ice altogether while walking, and traverse through snow or grass instead. On cold, icy days when you don’t have any pressing errands to run, amuse yourself with indoor activities: do a puzzle, read a book or find an indoor workout routine.
Other tips to avoid slipping on ice
To reduce your chances of slipping, be proactive about ice by addressing it early and often:
- Spread salt or sand on your outdoor walkways and stairs
- Shovel as soon as you can after a storm
Ice got you down? TRIA orthopedic urgent care can help
Winter can be the most wonderful time of the year, so don’t let slipping on ice derail your plans for the season. However, if accidents do happen, we’re here for you.
Our orthopedic urgent care clinics in Bloomington, Maple Grove and Woodbury are open seven days a week. We provide walk-in care for athletes and individuals of all ages and abilities, no appointment necessary. Our sports medicine doctors, physical therapists and athletic trainers are here to help you get back to the activities you love.