Northwestern Medicine

Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedic Specialists Give Tips on Avoiding Winter Injuries

Northwestern Memorial Hospital December 14, 2013

Slipping and sliding on ice can lead to trips to the emergency room  

CHICAGO, IL – Shoppers along Michigan Avenue have been wearing their winter coats for weeks and the holiday lights are up, so Chicagoans knew the forecasted frigid temperatures were inevitable, but that doesn’t mean everyone will take the proper precautions when it comes to winter weather.   

Snowy conditions can pose serious health and safety threats and often lead to an increase in fractures, sprains and other orthopaedic injuries, according to Northwestern Medicine® specialists.  

“We see a definite an increase in injuries, including fractures, which are breaks in the bone,  resulting from slips and falls or accidents involving motor vehicles during harsh weather conditions,” said Michael D. Stover, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and professor of orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Broken ankles are also one of the most common fracture types and can be caused by slipping and twisting the ankle while navigating slippery surfaces.”   According to Stover, the following simple steps can reduce the risk of a fall and injury this winter:
  • Check the weather –Wear winter boots with good traction and avoid shoes with smooth, slippery bottoms. Go for function over fashion.
  • Take your time – When the weather is adverse, take extra time to get between destinations. Avoid running for buses, or trying to beat traffic when crossing a street. Don’t worry; you’ll catch the next one.
  • Brace yourself – When entering and exiting a vehicle, support yourself before standing and use the car door for stability.
  • Go hands free –Your arms help you balance, so avoid heavy purses, coffee, or holding your phone out in front of you while walking on icy or snow-covered surfaces.
  • Walk cautiously –Take small, cautious steps and stay low to the ground walking with curled toes and a flat foot.
With winter comes snow – typically lots of it. Northwestern Medicine spine surgeon Alpesh Patel, MD, reminds people to protect their backs when removing snow.   “Like many other exercises, shoveling is a strenuous activity and so it’s important to stretch and hydrate before starting,” said Patel, chief of orthopaedic spine surgery at Northwestern Memorial and the Feinberg School. “Soft tissue injuries of ligaments and muscles, especially in the lower back, are common from the heavy lifting, bending and twisting.” Here are some tips from Patel on how to clear snow without injuring your back:
  • Pace yourself, hydrate and take frequent breaks.
  • Wear slip-resistant boots and dress warmly.
  • Try pushing the snow as opposed to lifting it or twisting and throwing it over your shoulders.
  • Listen to your body and stop immediately if you get short of breath, start sweating profusely, or have chest pain.   
While not every fall can be avoided, Patel says there is a right way and wrong way to fall. “On average, you have less than two seconds from the moment you lose your balance to the moment you hit the ground,” explained Patel. “Knowing how to fall properly can save you from pain and injury.”  

When a fall is imminent, staying calm and avoiding panic is important because injury is more likely to occur when muscles are tense. If falling backwards, try to fall into a sitting position which is the safest way to land. Protecting the head and skull should always be a priority if you fall, but be careful to not try to break a fall with your hands.  

Learn more about Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedic Care.

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