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How to Prevent Injuries During Winter

Posted on December 06 2018

Winter has returned to Central New York, and with quite the fury so far! If you haven't already, it's time to break out the snow shovels, snow blowers and plows, boots, and dress as though you are going extended deep sea diving! Yes, those bulky winter coats, scarves, ear muffs, gloves, you name it - time to come out of hiding. 

While dressing for winter can certainly be an annoyance, there's another aspect of winter that can be downright dangerous - and that is winter injuries. If you've experienced an injury or pain while performing a wintertime activity, you are not alone. Personal injury during winter is likely to occur from performing simple tasks, especially if you're not prepared to prevent an incident. 

From your back, shoulder, neck, down to your joints and knees, pain and injury in these areas are extremely common during the winter season. But, there is good news. Preventing winter injuries is possible, and you can even enjoy the season without the unnecessary pain and stiffness

Below, we will discover information about wintertime injuries and provide health and safety tips to avoid them.

The Most Common Winter Injuries

Winter weather conditions bring with them a variety of potential risks for personal injury, as well as injury to others. Some of the most common winter incidents that lead to personal injury include:

  • Falling on the ice and snow
  • Muscle strain from shoveling snow or scraping ice 
  • Driving and motor vehicle accidents
  • Accidents while participating in winter sports and activities

Not all incidents will cause severe injury, but some winter accidents can be serious for certain age groups, and for people suffering from previous injuries. 

Falling On Ice and Snow

Slipping and falling on ice can be a common, but frightening experience. Ice can be difficult to see both during the day and at night. What may look like a puddle of water on the pavement may actually be a sheet of ice. When this happens, severe injury can occur if you fall to the ground, or even if you don't end up falling, you can still hurt yourself in an attempt to recover from falling. 

Anyone is at risk of injuring themselves by falling or slipping on the ice and snow, but senior citizens tend to be at a higher risk of injury due to the age of their bones and joints. According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury among older Americans, and winter weather conditions only increase the concern.

There are a variety of potential injuries that can occur from falls on ice, but the most common include: bruises, head or brain injuries, including concussions, ankle strains and twists, other muscle sprains and ligament strains, broken bones, most commonly hip and wrist fractures, back injuries, and injuries to the spinal cord.

So, how can you keep your family safer and prevent a slip or fall on icy, snowy days?

  • Wear proper footwear, such as boots, that are made for icy and snowy conditions.
  • Keep your stride shorter and avoid taking long steps.
  • Slow things down - try not to rush or run outdoors.
  • Keep sand or salt on hand, so that you can sprinkle some around if needed.
  • Take your time doing outdoor chores or activities instead of hurrying.   

Unfortunately, even with the best preventative measures, accidents can still and do happen. Use extra caution, and if you find yourself injured, seek medical help right away.

Shoveling Snow

Shoveling snow is perhaps the most dreaded and tedious part of winter. It requires much physical exertion and it can be quite time consuming. The low temperatures can make the task even more unbearable. The repeated actions of twisting and lifting while shoveling can cause severe strain on the body.

Shoveling has been known to cause over 11,500 emergency room visits over the course of 11 years. The most common injuries reported were soft tissue injuries in the lower back region, lacerations and fractures, injuries to the hands and arms, and in worse cases, heart attacks

How can you prevent injury from snow shoveling?

  • Take frequent breaks and rest when you need to.
  • Stay hydrated and drink liquids while you're shoveling, and after as well.
  • Consider salting your driveway or sidewalk before the snow starts falling. This may help prevent an unnecessary injury once you start shoveling.
  • Warm up for about 10 minutes before heading outside to prepare your body for the vigorous activity ahead. This can include doing squats, walking, and/or stretching.
  • Start as early as you can. It's easier to shovel 2 inches of fresh snow than 6 inches of snow that has had the chance to become dense and packed. If an all day snowfall is expected, you may want to consider clearing a few inches of snow at a time throughout the day, rather than waiting for the snow to stop and shoveling it all at once.
  • Push snow, instead of lifting it, as it is much easier on your body. But, if you have to lift snow, remember to: keep your feet hip width apart, bend your knees and keep your back straight, try not to twist your torso when lifting the snow, shovel small amounts at a time, and don't throw the snow into a pile; instead, walk it over to where you want to pile it.
  • Consider hiring someone to do the shoveling for you. The cost may be well worth it to prevent an injury or avoid making joint pain worse.   

Driving and Accidents

Driving in the wintertime can be treacherous and dangerous if the right precautions are not taken. If you aren't prepared for winter driving conditions and don't take proper safety measurements, you can put yourself and others at risk. A study found that over a period of 10 years, there were over 445,000 people injured as a result of weather related vehicle collisions.

Winter weather can bring all kinds of potentially hazardous road conditions, such as: wet pavement, snow covered roads, sleet and slush, low visibility, snow drifts, and full coverings of snow and ice. Here are some things that you can do to ensure your safety when driving in winter weather:

1. Prepare your car. Be sure to inspect your car before driving in winter weather. Have your snow tires properly placed on before the snow falls, always make sure they have enough tread and are properly inflated. Always have about a half tank of gas in your car. Make sure your windshield wipers are in good working condition, and that your wiper fluid is topped off. Most important, pack extra warm clothing, such as: gloves, hats, coats, and a blanket, food, water, and an emergency and first aid kit in your car - in the event that you get stranded.

2. Don't hit the gas when you want to start your travels or while making a turn. Accelerating too fast can cause your tires to lose traction.

3. Don't hit the breaks when you want to stop right away. Pump your brakes, so that you don't lose traction. Holding your foot, or slamming on the brakes will cause them to lock up and cause you to skid.

4. If you lose traction on the snow or ice, steer in the direction that you want to go.

5. Put your seatbelt on every time you get into your car. Remember to put it on before you begin driving, and make sure that any passengers driving with you are securely buckled in as well.

6. Drive below the posted speed limit if the weather conditions are degraded. Stopping, turning, braking, etc., all take longer on snow or ice covered roads.

7. Do not tailgate. The average follow time of 3 to 4 seconds should be increased to 8 to 10 seconds to account for the increased margin of difficulty in driving.

8. Do not use cruise control when driving on snow, ice, and wet surfaces.

9. Avoid driving while fatigued. Studies have shown that driving fatigued can result in driving risks that are similar to those who are impaired by alcohol.

10. Stay home if necessary. Use your best judgement. Heed the warnings of officials and if you are not comfortable driving, don't. If you can't stay home, find other methods of transportation to get to your destination. Avoid unnecessary travel, and limit the time spent driving in the dark.  

Bonus tip: Never start your car in an enclosed area and let it run to warm up, such as, in a garage. This can create a deadly buildup of carbon monoxide, which can quickly be fatal to people - without warning.

Falling or Colliding During Winter Activities

One of the few enjoyable perks of winter is the fun that you and your family can have with the various amount of winter activities and sports. From ice hockey and skating to skiing, sledding, and snowboarding, there are plenty of ways to stay active and have fun in the winter.

However, these winter activities can be risky if you aren't practicing safety. Falls and collisions in many winter sports or 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. Simple tasks, such as running outdoors along trails or the sidewalk can also pose safety risks if the pavement isn't salted or the trails aren't properly cleaned.

Here are some steps that you and your family can take to practice safety, all while still having fun on those blustery, winter, snow days!

  • Never participate alone in a winter sport/activity.
  • Keep in shape and condition muscles before participating in winter activities.
  • Warm up thoroughly before playing or participating. Cold muscles, tendons, and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. Keep hydrated as well.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding
  • Check any equipment is working properly prior to use.
  • Wear several layers of light, loose and water-and-wind resistant clothing for warmth and protection. Layering allows you to accommodate your body's constantly changing temperature. Wear proper footwear that provides warmth and dryness, as well as ankle support.
  • Know and follow all rules of the sport you're participating in.
  • Take a lesson - or several - from a qualified instructor, especially in sports such as, skiing and snowboarding. Learning how to fall correctly and safely can reduce the risk of injury.
  • Pay attention and heed the warnings about upcoming storms and severe low temperatures.
  • Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you or anyone with you experiences hypothermia or frostbite. Make sure that everyone is aware of proper procedures for getting help, if injuries do occur.
  • Avoid participating in activities when you are in pain or are exhausted.

Age Groups and Demographics Most Affected

Children

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 assess their head for any injuries and then check their wrists and elbows. Be sure to always supervise kids during winter activities and provide them with helmets to protect their heads.

Seniors

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. Seniors who have suffered from hip injuries in the past could further damage their hips or back. Seniors should be accompanied and helped down driveways and across parking lots to ensure that they are stable and have the support to walk safely. Seniors 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 an increased risk to be severely injured in any of these winter incidents. A slip or fall can trigger a past injury and can cause further damage. Additionally, adults with osteoporosis are at an even high risk for broken and fractured bones if involved in a collision or fall.

Athletic Active Adults

Adults who remain active throughout the winter months are also at greater risk for injuries if proper safety measurements aren't taken. Adults who ski or snowboard should be advised that, without 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.

Conclusion

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. Remember, when rushing into public places, like shopping malls or stores, slow down and 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.

For back injury prevention, stretch lightly at first, followed by a deeper stretch. If you are going to be shoveling snow, then it's important to stay well hydrated and take frequent breaks so you don't exhaust your muscles and body.

When performing winter sports and activities, be sure to always have the proper protective equipment to prevent head and other serious injuries. If you have access to a gym or can use a treadmill at home, consider doing that, as it will prevent any risk of slipping and falling while running outdoors during the winter. If you do choose to run outdoors, go with someone and carry your cell phone in case of an emergency. Familiarize yourself with your running route to ensure it's an area that has been salted and cleared of ice and snow.

If you or your family member suffers a winter injury, it's imperative to first assess the severity level. Sometimes, muscle injuries can be treated with ibuprofen and by applying ice or a heating pad. However, more serious injuries will need to be treated immediately by a professional. If you suspect any serious injury, seek a physician immediately.

By following these winter injury prevention tips, you can enjoy a happy and safe winter season! 

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