Decrease Your Risk of Winter Falls & Injuries
Winter in New England can be beautiful to behold but that pretty ice and snow can be hazardous to your health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 million people are injured from slip and fall on ice and snow each year. While most of those injuries result in bruising or broken wrists, arms, and hands, about 17,000 of those falls prove fatal, most often due to traumatic brain injury.
While no one anticipates falling, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood that you’ll go down when venturing out. Here are a few tips to help keep you upright:
Keep walkways clear of ice and snow. For notoriously slick surfaces, apply earth-friendly cat litter or sand to create traction.
Walk on designated walkways. Use clean and designated walkways and take advantage of handrails. Keep your eyes on the ground (i.e., not on your phone) and pay attention to surface changes. If the path is icy, move to the edge and walk on the grass for traction.
Wear shoes and boots with proper traction. Flat-soled footwear made of rubber and neoprene composite provide better traction than plastic and leather soles. For especially slippery conditions, you may want to invest in slip-on traction cleats or snow grips which provide grip on snow and ice.
Dress for the cold. Always bundle up when heading out. Should you fall and find yourself unable to get up, a warm coat, gloves, and hat will go a long way towards keeping you comfortable until help arrives.
Use your cane or walker. If you use a cane or walker, now is not the time to leave it at home. In the case of walkers, consider getting wheels specially designed for winter conditions.
Take your time. Always plan for additional time when traveling in winter. When walking outside, do not hurry. Instead, take small steps Take short steps or shuffle for stability, with your center of gravity directly over your feet as much as possible. Keep your hands free and out of your pockets to help you balance.
If you feel yourself falling, lean your back and head forward to minimize the risk of hitting your head on the ground.
Be careful upon exiting. Whether you’re exiting a building or a car, always check the ground for icy spots. Use your car and handrails for support as needed.
Keep your cellphone on you whenever you head outside. Whether it’s to your mailbox or for a longer trek with friends, always take your cellphone so you can summon help if it’s needed rather than wait on the cold ground for assistance.
If you fall, keep still. If you do fall, your first instinct will likely be to try and get up. But you need to resist that instinct and assess your situation so that you avoid doing any more potential harm. Instead: Take a few moments or minutes to assess how you are feeling and any sources of pain or discomfort. If you or someone else has hit their head on the ground, or it appears that a bone is broken, call 911.
Get up safely. If you’re able to get up, do slowly. If someone attempts to assist you to your feet, do so in a manner that ensures they, too, won’t get hurt.
Ultimately, staying safe is up to you. Use your best judgment when out and about and don’t be embarrassed to make the decision to stay put when the ice and snow pile up or to call in the troops to help you clear your walkways.
Dr. Lisa J. Downing-Forget, MD, MPH practices Geriatric Primary Care at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.