Common Winter Injuries – and How to Avoid Them
Ice, snow, and other weather hazards are ever-present in many parts of the country during the winter months.[FOR WARM WEATHER ONLY: Even for those of us lucky enough to live in warmer climates, we may find ourselves vacationing in or traveling through the mountains.] Emergency rooms and urgent care practices regularly see patients for winter-related injuries – many of which are preventable. Read on to learn more about the most common winter injuries, how to prevent them, and when to seek medical attention.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, almost 117,000 people are injured in car accidents on snowy or icy roads every year. The best thing you can do to minimize your risk is to ensure that your car is winter-ready:
- Make sure you have the right tires: Invest in a set of winter tires or carry chains in your vehicle at all times and inspect your tires for damage before trips
- Check fluid levels before long trips to avoid breakdowns: Low wiper fluid, antifreeze, and oil levels can lead to unsafe conditions due to low visibility or sub-optimal vehicle performance. Make sure to top off fluids when heading out on a longer trip.
- Make sure your headlights and brake lights are all in working order: The last thing you want is to be caught in a snowstorm with burned out headlights or brake lights. Consider keeping a spare set of bulbs in your vehicle so you are always prepared.
- Drive defensively: Give other vehicles plenty of space on the road so you have time to react if another vehicle spins out or loses control. It is also important to adapt your speed to the road and weather conditions. Don’t let the speed of other drivers pressure you to go faster. Move to the right lane and drive cautiously if you are concerned about road conditions.
- Last but not least, avoid driving when the conditions are particularly hazardous whenever possible.
Seeking medical help after an accident
If you get in a car accident, whiplash, bruises, and concussion are a few common injuries that range from minor to severe. Oftentimes after an accident, people may not immediately realize the extent of their injuries. Although you may feel “fine” after a car accident, it is recommended to seek medical care to ensure that any injuries that may arise are documented for insurance purposes. Be sure to alert your provider that you are seeking care following a car accident.
Slips and Falls
With ice and snow comes an increased risk of slipping and falling when you venture outdoors. While some falls may seem inevitable, there are many things you can do to decrease your chances of falling in the first place:
- Wear proper footwear: Choose shoes with chunky tread or use traction cleats that slip over the sole of your shoe. It may be tempting to wear regular sneakers – or even your slippers – to walk to the mailbox, but taking an extra minute to equip yourself with proper footwear can save you the pain of a fall and potentially a trip to the doctor.
- Take small steps: If you are walking on ice or packed snow, take small, shuffling steps to increase your balance and reduce the risk of falling
- Keep your hands free and be aware of your surroundings: Many falls happen because we are distracted – looking down at a phone, trying to juggle grocery bags, or simply fiddling with your coat can mean your hands aren’t available to break your fall. Being aware of your surroundings and watching every step can be enough to prevent some falls.
Seeking medical help after a fall
If you DO fall, the first thing you should do is stay still and assess yourself for injuries. If you are able to stand, find something to grab on to if possible to help stabilize yourself as you get up.
Most falls will result in no more than swelling and bruising. However, bone fractures, sprains, and back pain should be assessed by a medical professional. If you are unable to move a body part, can’t walk, or are in severe pain, please contact your local urgent care or primary care advice nurse immediately. You will also want to watch for swelling – if swelling does not respond to ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen), it would also be advisable to seek medical attention.
Shoveling snow is an inevitable chore in many parts of the U.S. It is also a very common cause of back injuries and heart attack due to overexertion, lacerations from falling on ice, and bumps, bruises, and broken bones due to falling. In fact, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 11,000 adults and children go to the hospital every year for snow-shoveling related injuries. Here are some ways to keep yourself safe and healthy while shoveling snow:
- Be aware of your physical limitations and take breaks: Overexertion can contribute to all sorts of injuries while shoveling snow, including muscle strains, back pain, and heart attack. Take regular breaks when possible.
- Invest in a good snow shovel: Choose one with a long, adjustable handle and a sharp blade on the scoop.
- Shovel smart: Instead of scooping and lifting the snow, which can strain muscles, try pushing it out of the way. Avoid heaving shovelfuls of show over your shoulder, as this can aggravate back injuries.
- Wear slip-resistant shoes: Invest in shoes with heavy tread or use over-shoe traction devices.
Seeking medical help after a shoveling injury
The advice here is similar to dealing with slips and falls: Assess your injuries as best you can before moving, get up carefully and slowly if possible, and seek medical attention if you cannot walk or move a body part or if you are bleeding and cannot get it to stop. If you are having symptoms of a heart attack, please call 911 immediately.
Skiing, snowboarding, and other snow sports are inherently risky activities, but that doesn’t mean that injuries are inevitable. There are many things you can do to reduce the risk and severity of injuries.
- Invest in the proper gear: A well-fitting helmet, gloves, and boots are your first line of defense against snow sport injuries. If you have children participating in winter sports, wrist guards can also be a great way to protect against broken bones due to falls.
- Be aware of your surroundings: Many accidents happen due to collisions between two or more people. Always yield to uphill traffic and be aware of merging trails when skiing or snowboarding. Scan ahead for patches of ice, rocks, and other hazards
- Know your limitations: If you are new to the sport, consider signing up for some lessons so you have a strong foundation and the ability to control yourself. If you are a beginner, stick to easier ski/snowboard runs and always stay within the boundaries of the ski area.
- Use the buddy system: It’s always a good idea to ski/board with a friend so that if one of you is injured and can’t move, the other can go for help.
- Know where to go for help: Most snow resorts have medical personnel stationed at the top of chair lifts – and if not, there will be staff at the top and bottom of each chair that can use their radio to request help. When you get off at the top of a lift, make a mental note of your starting location and your general route so you know where the closest staff is. Keep a run map with you at all times in case you lose your sense of direction.
Seeking medical help after a snow sports injury
If you injure yourself while skiing or snowboarding, it is important to get help as quickly as possible to avoid the risk of hypothermia. If you are alone and unable to move, get the attention of others by yelling and waving your arms. If you are on skis, stick them in the snow in an upright “X” position; on a snowboard, stick it into the ground straight up. This will make you more visible to those coming down the hill, which will reduce the risk of a collision (which is the last thing you want when you are already injured!). Once you are able, you’ll need to get to the closest ski lift. Once there, staff members can radio for help. Luckily, many resorts have medical facilities onsite where they can treat minor and severe injuries. Once you have been stabilized and are off the mountain, contact your primary care provider or make an appointment with urgent care to address any lingering issues.
If you find yourself suffering from a weather-related injury, head to the nearest Physicians Urgent Care for convenient testing and treatment. We’re here to care for you.