Slipping and Sliding in Ice and Snow Leads to Falls and Fractures
Northwestern Medicine orthopaedic expert offers tips for avoiding winter injuries
A winter storm hitting the Chicago area this week is expected to bring significant snow, along with freezing rain and sleet. Northwestern Medicine® orthopaedic experts warn that slippery, snowy conditions can pose serious health and safety threats and often lead to an increase in fractures, sprains and other orthopaedic injuries.
“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. “We often see patients with fractures of the wrist and shoulder or hip from people trying to break their falls with outstretched hands. 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 – Proper clothes and footwear will make it easier to navigate wintery conditions. Wear winter boots with good traction and avoid shoes with smooth, slippery bottoms.
- Take your time – When the weather is adverse, take extra time to get between destinations. Falls increase when people are rushing, so avoid running for buses, or trying to beat traffic when crossing a street.
- 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 – Be aware of surroundings and recognize if a surface is slippery or uneven. Take small, cautious steps and stay low to the ground walking with curled toes and a flat foot.
While not every fall can be avoided, Stover 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 Stover. “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.
“Seek medical attention if pain and swelling from a fall doesn’t go away within a day to two days, or if you are unable to bear weight. If you fall and hit your head, pay attention for concussion symptoms and see a doctor if you experience dizziness, continued pain or headaches,” said Stover.
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To find a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, call 312-926-0779 or visit www.nmh.org.