By this time of year, clinics and emergency rooms are already full of people who have suffered wintertime injuries. With potentially icy surfaces obscured by snow, and with the extra moisture there are a good number of reasons as to why many of us seem to incur and suffer more injuries at this time of year.
Let’s look at some different types of common wintertime injuries that can happen to different parts of the body and how you can help avoid them for yourself and your family members.
Slipping and Falling
Many of us suffer injuries during the winter months that are not issues at any other time of year. Yet despite the fact that we know that it’s coming, it seems to get the best of many of us each year. A slip-and-fall injury can diminish your quality of life for weeks or even months, depending on its severity.
Make sure that you are wearing appropriate footwear
An anti-slip tread is always best but if you want to be extra rooted as you tread upon potentially icy surfaces, try one of many brands that produce convenient sets of tiny spikes or cleats mounted on rubber rims that can be stretched around the soles of your winter boots for superior traction on the ice. Just knowing that you’ve got that extra little bit of traction can really help take the anxiety out of walking across slip hazards.
Note: Be sure to remove these boot add-ons before entering your home or you risk damage to hardwood and laminate floors as well as carpets.
Adjust Your Gate
No, not your metal front yard gate… Your ‘gate’ refers to the way your body moves while walking. In warmer months, when sidewalks aren’t slippery, we can stride forwardly with momentum and vigour, confident that the grounding of our heels will anchor us at every step. As such, we don’t have to give too much thought to our lateral (or side-to-side) movements when it’s warm and dry. But when it is damp and cold and icy, it is particularly this deliberate shift in our bodily movements that can help us avoid the kinds of dangerous falls that can hinder our quality of life for the remaining winter months or longer.
Practice the following for best results:
- Take shorter steps - the lesser your reach, the lesser your risk
- Point the toe of each foot slightly out to each side as you walk to broaden your footprint
- When you stride forward, stop short of locking your knees - this will allow you additional lateral support should your footing slip
- In the same way that you prevent your knees from locking, sink your hips into your gate and keep them loose - you will have greater lateral flexibility for support and stability in the hips, and greater equilibrium overall due to a slightly lowered centre of gravity
- Extend your arms out at your sides if you are uncertain of a surface - many people do this instinctively, but surprisingly few will also use handrails for added support when they are available
- Tread carefully - don’t be afraid to test first!
Snow Removal the Smart Way
The second-most-common wintertime injury seen in clinics and doctor’s offices each year is generally a back injury earned during the shovelling of snow. While lower lumbar injuries are common to people who have been lifting heavy - maybe even wet - snow, many serious injuries come from the torsional twisting and strained trunk-rotations that many of us put ourselves through in order to heave the shovels full of the terrible white stuff where we’d like it. This particular motion that so many of us subject ourselves to every year puts our musculoskeletal systems at increased risk.
To reduce this risk, try the following:
- Keep sand, salt, or de-icing pellets in a bin at the ready at the ready
- Stretch in advance - Hips, hamstrings, back, and shoulder muscles all endure inordinate strain while shovelling
- Perform a series of standing trunk-rotations and try to alternatingly touch your toes with your hand on the other side of your body
- Shovel snow as it falls, completing your driveway in a few easy phases, to reduce the overall load on your back muscles
- Start from the middle of your driveway and shovel straight out to either side, throwing snow off your driveway without twisting at the waist
- Lift with your legs and keep your back straight at all times
- Stay warm to preserve your flexibility and reduce the risk of pulling muscles or tendons
- Don’t be afraid to take a break for a warm drink!
Even at play, we’re at risk. Let’s face it… We’re Canadians. And we love our outdoor winter activities. Whether alpine skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice fishing or winter camping, it’s clear that we simply will not be imprisoned indoors for the winter months. But what about common injuries that many of us suffer every year due to our earnest determination to stay active during the winter months?
Being prepared is always the best prevention. It doesn’t matter if you’re skiing or sledding. It doesn’t matter if you’re just playing a game of pick-up hockey at your local outdoor community ice rink. You must wear a helmet! If you are a parent, ensure that every member of your family has their heads protected during activities that carry the reasonable expectation of head-injury risks. Step this up by protecting everyone’s eyes - ensure their clear visibility with fog-resistant goggles. Promoting awareness is always the best part of accident prevention and helps ensure that everyone will have a fun-filled day on the snow-covered hills.
If you’re a snowmobile or wintertime ATV enthusiast, invest in an accredited safety course and adjust your riding habits accordingly. If it’s a family activity be sure to teach your children well to guarantee their ongoing protection, encouraging safety-conscious respect for these kinds of motorized, winter activities in future generations.
As great a risk as we assume travelling by car all year round, we know that risk is heightened during the winter. Roads are damp and icy, perhaps even turning into freezing rain and dangerous ‘black ice’ conditions. Trucks responsible for sanding and/or salting in your area may be overburdened and slow to respond. What’s more, if precipitation is actively falling, it is sure to reduce visibility for all drivers, not just you. When conditions are extremely poor, emergency vehicles may also be slower to respond in the event of an accident.
Typically, during this time of year, most common accidents tend to concern people who didn’t leave themselves enough distance to brake at red lights, rear-ending other vehicles and potentially other drivers with serious injuries like whiplash. Other common car accidents during this time of year involve T-bone collisions and side-swipes as drivers underestimate the distance that it will take them to stop under icy conditions and drift into oncoming traffic.
Prevention should always be your first strategy. Take advantage of the following tips:
- Reduce your speed - taking back roads and driving under 80 kilometres an hour dramatically increases your chances of avoiding a car crash due to poor conditions
- Break early and break often
- Get new windshield wipers - visibility is the first key to obstacle and accident avoidance
- Utilize the superior handling of winter tires - their benefits include superior traction, shorter braking, better handling, and more
- Plot your route using GPS apps like Waze - keep abreast of traffic issues on the highway and don’t get caught off-guard
- In case of an accident, avoid collateral threats by keeping a kit of road flares, candles, blankets, and cigarette-lighter power adapters for cell phones to ensure that you can contact and be contacted by others, such as CAA or 911.
Research shows that most accidents that happen during the wintertime are fundamentally due to people rushing and not taking the extra time needed to safely and carefully go about their outdoor activities. Overwhelmingly, the best advice seems to be to accept the fact that you need to slow down. Give yourself more time to accomplish the tasks that you’re used to. That includes the additional time you need to get properly dressed. Remember that the colder months are a time of increased risk, and ensure that you are giving yourself every advantage in avoiding an injury this winter.
Sadly, there’s no foolproof method. And during the wintertime, any one of us can fall victim to a common activity-based injury. No matter how diligent we may try to be or the precautions that we might take, awareness and prevention are the keys to an injury-free winter holiday. Despite all precautions, however, injuries do happen. At Livewell, we specialize in pinpointing the exact cause of your pain and injury and working with you to create a recovery plan and support you through the work involved. Be sure to consider Livewell for your rehabilitation requirements.