Avoid Common Winter Injuries with These Helpful Tips
Most of us stay huddled inside during the winter…and for good reason! It’s cold and the days are shorter. We don’t want to get out and shovel that snow, scrape that ice, or go do those outside chores that simply cannot wait until the Spring. This means that, while we are typically less active during the winter months, it doesn’t mean injuries become less frequent. Personal injury during winter is likely to occur from performing simple activities, especially if you aren’t prepared to prevent an incident. From your back, shoulder and neck to joints and knees, pain and injury in these areas are commonplace during the winter.
The good news? Preventing winter injuries is possible, and you can enjoy the season without unnecessary pain and stiffness. If you need to see us, we have four locations to serve you in Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Bluefield and Wytheville!
What Are the Most Common Winter Injuries?
Some of the most common winter incidents that lead to personal injury include:
• Falling on ice and snow
• Experiencing muscle strain from shoveling snow or scraping ice off the car
• Driving and motor vehicle collisions
• Accidents while playing winter sports and activities
Not all incidents will cause severe injury, but some winter accidents can be quite serious, especially for certain age groups and for people suffering from previous injuries. At Sideline Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, we see these happen to people of all ages, all of the time.
SLIPPING AND FALLING ON ICE AND SNOW
Slipping and falling on ice can be a scary experience. Ice can be difficult to see both at night and during the day. What looks like water pooled on the pavement can really be a sheet of ice. You could step off the curb and right onto a slippery ice patch. When this happens, severe injury can occur if you fall to the ground. It doesn’t take much for your body to “tweak” the wrong way.
Anyone is in danger of injuring themselves by falling or slipping on ice or snow, but seniors are especially at risk. In fact, according to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury among older Americans, and winter weather conditions only exacerbate that concern.
Most common fall injuries we see include:
• Head or brain injuries, including concussions
• Ankle strains and twists, and other kinds of muscle sprains and ligament strains
• Broken bones, most commonly hip and wrist fractures
• Back injuries, including spinal compression fractures
• Injuries to the spinal cord
The good news is that you can put measures in place to help prevent this kind of accident:
• Wear proper footwear made for icy and snowy conditions.
• Keep your stride shorter and avoid long steps (think about how penguins walk).
• Slow things down — try not to rush or run outdoors.
• Keep de-icer or sand on hand for when things get slippery around your house.
• In case of injury, always have your cell phone handy.
• If you need to do outdoor chores, take your time and don’t hurry.
• Cover your car windshield with something if we’re expecting ice or snow. This will make removal much easier and safer since you won’t be standing on ice or snow while trying to scrap it all off.
Some people are unaware that they have a severe injury. This may be because they don’t feel the effects of the fall immediately, or they believe their pain and discomfort will pass with time. Symptoms like pain or swelling should not be ignored, and it’s important to seek the advice of a medical professional to assess your condition. If you are experiencing any of this, or have had a fall, please call us today at 540-552-7133 or request an appointment today!
No one likes shoveling a driveway. It can take a long time and require a lot of physical exertion and rushing to get it done can often lead to careless mistakes. Low temperatures make the task of shoveling snow even more unpleasant. Repetitive actions of twisting and lifting while shoveling can cause severe strain on the body, especially the back. It doesn’t take much to move or twist the wrong way, or to put too much weight on your back and cause discomfort and injury.
The most common injuries reported were soft tissue injuries mostly to the lower back region. Among the remaining injury reports, lacerations and fractures were also reported, including injuries to the hands, arms and head.
DRIVING AND COLLISIONS
If you aren’t prepared for winter driving conditions and don’t take the proper safety precautions, you can put yourself and others at risk. A study found that over a period of ten years, there were over 445,000 people injured as a result of weather-related vehicle collisions. The winter weather brings with it all kinds of potentially hazardous road conditions, such as:
• Wet pavement
• Sleet and slush
• Full coverings of snow and ice
Prevention of driving accidents is never something we can 100% control, but there are things you can do to help minimize your risk.
1) Make sure to properly clear your windows of snow and ice before driving and run the defroster to keep visibility where it needs to be
2) Come to a complete stop at all intersections
3) Allow more time and space between vehicles than you normally would in warm and dry conditions. The vehicle ahead or behind you could take more time to stop or could have their vision impaired by ice so distance yourself as needed.
FALLING OR COLLIDING DURING WINTER ACTIVITIES
The great thing about winter is that it brings some awesome sports and outdoor fun! From ice hockey and skating to skiing and snowboarding and sledding, there are plenty of ways to stay active and have fun in the winter.
These winter activities can be quite risky if you aren’t practicing safety. Falls and collisions in many winter activities can cause several forms of injury. Broken bones and stiff muscles and joints are some of the most frequently reported injuries when it comes to outdoor sports and activities.
Some of the resultant injuries from these winter accidents most commonly include:
Falling on ice and hitting your head on the pavement can lead to a potentially serious brain injury. If this occurs, it will need immediate treatment by a physician. A brain injury can be difficult to treat, and often the symptoms won’t be noticed until long after the injury has occurred. Head injuries can occur during winter activities like sledding, snowboarding and skiing, or one can also occur as a result of a motor vehicle collision, which has the potential to lead to serious long-term health consequences.
Shoulder injuries commonly occur when you fall on icy pavement. When your shoulder meets contact with the ice-covered pavement, dislocation can occur. This damage to the shoulder joint can be quite severe and leave you suffering from soreness and bruising for a long time afterward. A torn rotator cuff can happen as the result of repetitive overhead motions from winter sports or shoveling snow. This muscle tear can leave you feeling sore and stiff and may result in a chronic injury as well.
There are plenty of winter incidents and activities that can cause a back injury. The most common injury associated with shoveling snow is to the back, specifically the lower back. Back injuries can also be the result of a serious fall on the icy pavement or on the stairs. Falls during winter sports and activities can also result in a back injury. Another common way to injure your back during the winter time is by scraping your car’s windshield to remove ice and snow. The bending and leaning motion your body performs while reaching across to scrape the ice can result in pulled and strained back muscles. Depending on the level of severity, treating a back injury with heat may help to relax sore muscles. An injury that is caused by a fall on ice may damage your spine, so treatment by a physician will be required.
Like back and shoulder injuries, neck injuries can occur due to a number of different winter incidents. The repetitive motion of shoveling snow can certainly lead to stiffness and soreness in the neck muscles. Neck injuries can also happen when scraping snow and ice from your car’s windshield when your muscles become strained from leaning and reaching. These injuries can usually be treated with a heating pad to relax tense neck muscles. If a neck injury is caused by a fall or a motor vehicle collision, it should be treated at the emergency room.
KNEE PAIN AND STRAIN
High-impact winter sports can be very damaging to your knees over a period of time. This type of injury usually occurs while performing activities and sports such as skiing and snowboarding, where your knees are absorbing the shock of hard landings. Running outdoors on pavement can also cause a similar injury to your knees. The best thing to do with a knee injury is to take it easy until it heals, avoiding any high-impact activities.
WRIST FRACTURES AND STRAINS
A fall on the icy pavement can cause wrist injuries such as fractures and strains. When you take a fall, your natural instinct is to extend your arms and brace your fall with your hands. The impact of the fall on your hands can cause a severe wrist strain or even fracture. Falls can result in serious injury if not treated properly. Your wrist may heal improperly, which could lead to chronic pain later in life.
Like wrist injuries, elbow injuries can also arise from a fall on icy pavement. When you extend your arms to brace your fall, not only do your wrists take the impact but your elbows do as well. Your elbow could become dislocated if the impact is so significant that it pops your bone out of position. Otherwise, a more potentially severe injury could be an elbow fracture. This can lead to long-term pain if not treated properly.
Falls on slippery, icy pavement can also cause ankle injuries. When you struggle to recover your balance after slipping on ice, you can easily roll and twist your ankle. This may end up being a muscle injury whereby the tendon has been strained. Otherwise, a certain type of fracture in the ankle bone can result if more impact has been felt. This type of fracture can be caused not only by a fall on iced-over sidewalks, but also due to winter sports injuries.
Slips and falls on icy roads and sidewalks can result in many different types of broken bones, fractures and injuries. But one of the more severe injuries occurs when a fall is so hard and sudden that it fractures the hip bone. This can be a very difficult injury to repair, and it can also cause chronic, long-term pain. This injury especially affects seniors who are predisposed to osteoporosis or previous hip injuries. This injury should certainly be treated as an emergency by a physician.
Children are susceptible to falls. They can easily fall and injure themselves if they can’t reach handrails or don’t have proper balance. If your child experiences a fall, it’s important to first assess their head for any injuries and then check for elsewhere, like wrists and elbows. Children especially enjoy their time sledding and tobogganing, which can put them at risk for injury. Be sure to always supervise kids during winter activities and provide them with helmets to protect their heads.
Like children, seniors are also at a higher risk of slipping and falling on icy pavement. Seniors can easily lose their footing and take a fall that can put them in severe danger. Those who have suffered in the past from hip injuries could further damage their hips or back. Elderly should be accompanied and helped down driveways and across parking lots to ensure they are stable and have the support to walk safely. Persons with mobility issues may want to consider motorized scooters during the winter months for extra safety precautions.
ADULTS WITH PREVIOUS MEDICAL CONDITIONS
Adults with previous back, neck and shoulder injuries are also at risk to be severely injured in any of these winter incidents. A slip or a fall can trigger a past injury and can cause further damage. Additionally, adults with a predisposition to osteoporosis are also at higher risk for broken and fractured bones if involved in a collision or a fall.
Adults who remain active throughout the winter months are also at greater risk for injuries if proper safety precautions aren’t followed. Those who ski and snowboard should be advised that, without the proper equipment, they can be at risk for head injuries as well as neck, shoulder, knee and ankle injuries.
People who run in the winter should be advised to use properly cleared and salted trails and sidewalks, so they don’t risk slipping and falling.
WINTER INJURY PREVENTION TIPS
Though many of these winter accidents can be quite common, they are easy enough to prevent by following specific steps.
• Thoroughly and regularly salt driveways, sidewalks and stairs
• Walk carefully across parking lots and provide children and seniors with additional support
• Stretch before performing any physical exercise
• Stay hydrated while exercising and shoveling snow
• Ensure proper footing when shoveling snow or scraping ice off the car
• Wear a helmet and protective equipment during winter sports
• Always supervise children playing outdoors in the snow
• Before shoveling or scraping, make sure to properly stretch
Most businesses and shopping centers take precautions to salt their parking lots and sidewalks once winter hits. Patches may be missed or ice may have formed since the last salting. When rushing into stores and shopping centers, slow down and take your time to carefully walk across the parking lot. Look for areas that have been clearly salted or do not appear wet. Hold onto children and seniors to help stabilize them as you walk across the parking lot or driveway and indoors.
For back injury prevention, it is advised to stretch lightly at first, then move into a deeper stretch. If you are going to be shoveling snow, then it’s important to stay well-hydrated and take frequent breaks so as not to exhaust your body and muscles.
When performing winter sports and activities, be sure to always have the proper protective equipment, like helmets, to prevent head and other serious injuries. If you have access to a gym or can use a treadmill at home, it will prevent any risk of slipping and falling while running outdoors during the winter.
Like running outdoors? Go with a buddy and be sure one of you carries a cell phone to call for help in the event of an injury. Familiarize yourself with your running route ahead of time to ensure it’s an area that has been salted and cleared of ice and snow.
WINTER DRIVING SAFETY TIPS
Winter weather can make driving more difficult, which means it can put yourself and others at risk of injury. In order to prevent motor vehicle collisions, follow these winter driving safety tips:
• Have proper winter-grade tires installed on your car
• Store an ice scraper in your car
• Keep windshield washer fluid full
• Have your vehicle inspected, especially breaks
• Have a winter safety kit in your trunk, including a high-visibility safety vest, gloves and jumper cables
• Keep a first aid kit in your car
• Never drive without a cellphone
• Limit the time spent driving in the dark
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUFFER A WINTER INJURY
If you or a family member suffers a winter injury, it’s important to first assess the severity level. Sometimes muscle injuries can be treated with ibuprofen and by applying ice or a heating pad (whichever is more comfortable) or taking a warm bath. However, more severe injuries will need to be treated immediately by a professional. If you suspect broken or fractured bones or a head injury, report it to a physician right away, visit the emergency room or visit your orthopedic injury clinic. Educate yourself and your family about the potential incidents and accidents that can occur during the winter, and you’ll be much more prepared to prevent them. When a serious injury occurs, be sure to contact Sideline Orthopedics to schedule an appointment with a doctor who can treat you for your specific injuries.