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Don’t let wintry weather bring you down: avoiding winter’s risks for orthopedic injuries

Don’t let wintry weather bring you down: avoiding winter’s risks for orthopedic injuries
According to popular folklore, the brighter the leaf colors in fall, the colder and snowier will be the winter. We enjoyed a vibrantly colored kaleidoscope of fall foliage and now as we welcome the winter solstice it’s time to turn our thoughts to the impending snow and ice that will quietly and surely blanket the earth multiple times throughout the winter season.

As compelling as it may sound, hibernating really isn’t an option, nor should it be! Study after study shows that spending time outside, even during the winter months, is important to our overall health and well-being. Here with information to help us avoid fractures, breaks, sprains, strains and dislocations when spending much-needed time outdoors are Jonathan Aubry, MD, sports medicine specialist at Carle McLean County Orthopedics in Bloomington and Sara Dumich, MD, sports medicine specialist at Carle Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Champaign.

“Every season brings with it unique challenges for those who want to remain active outdoors,” Dr. Aubry explains. “When you add icy and snow-covered surfaces into the mix you increase chances of slips and falls and even back, shoulder and neck injuries from repetitive motions when shoveling or scraping ice.”
According to Dr. Dumich, slips and falls on snowy and icy surfaces are one of the most common reasons for visits to an orthopedics office in the winter. “Muscles, tendons and ligaments can lose their normal flexibility when cold -- they can become tight,” Dr. Dumich explains. “This puts them at higher risk of injury.”

But, don’t be deterred. By following a few cold weather precautions you can go about your daily activities and partake in the sports of the season with confidence.

Walkin’ in a winter wonderland

Ice and snow-covered surfaces make everyone more vulnerable to slips and falls in the winter. “Common injuries are bruises (contusions), head injuries/concussions, ankle sprains and other joint sprains (like knees and shoulders), broken bones (most commonly hip and wrist fractures), and back injuries,” Dr. Dumich shares. “Prevention is the key.” 

When venturing outside for a cold weather walk make sure you: 
  • Wear the right shoes. 
    • Choose winter boots or shoes with good traction and a low, textured rubber sole
    • Use ice cleats or other traction enhancement devices if conditions warrant
    • Avoid wearing shoes with leather or plastic soles and high heels
  • Walk where the sidewalks have been cleared and salted. If you must cross over ice, walk like a penguin!
    • Take short or shuffling steps, point your feet outwards, bend slightly forward and walk flat-footed, centering yourself over your feet.
    • Keep your head up and your hands out of your pockets to help keep your balance
  • Know how to fall safely.
    • Bend your knees to reduce the distance of your fall
    • Cross your arms over your chest so you don’t risk breaking an arm or wrist trying to catch yourself 
    • Fall on the side of your body if possible
    • Protect your head by tucking your chin to your chest to help prevent your head from hitting the ground.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Shoveling snow and scraping ice off car windows can strain the shoulder and back muscles if not done properly and lead to back and disc issues that can be serious and sometimes permanent. “Know your physical limits,” cautions Dr. Aubry. “Shoveling snow requires significant physical exertion and if you are not physically ready it may be safer to have someone shovel for you.”
  • Begin with a 5-10 minute warm-up such as walking or marching in place to increase heart rate slowly and then add arm movements and stretches for back, chest and shoulder muscles to help warm up the upper body and avoid muscle tears or dislocation
  •  Bend your knees and lift with your legs so knees are bending and straightening to lift the shovel instead of leaning forward and straightening back up with the back
  •  Remember to hydrate and rest to avoid exhaustion

Dashing through the snow

Winter sports and activities can be enjoyed by most in all but the coldest winter temperatures. “It’s important to remain active, but be sure you’re prepared,” Dr. Aubry stresses.
  • Start slowly by warming up with exercises and/or stretches before taking part in your favorite winter activity
  • Dress properly and wear the appropriate protective gear, like helmets, goggles, wrist guards, and knee and/or elbow pads
  • Know your limits and stop when you are tired to avoid the risk of injuries due to overestimating your skill level or fatigue

Getting out and about can be more difficult in the cold however, exercise keeps us physically fit, mentally sharp, and happier overall. “It is important to stay active year-round,” Dumich says. “Take precautions when going outdoors and go with a friend or family member or be sure to carry a cell phone to call for help in the event of an injury.”

If despite your best efforts to stay safe outside slips and falls still happen, Carle Orthopedic specialists are there for you. Our orthopedic teams are fully prepared to look at minor and more serious problems and provide guidance and/or treatment that gets you back to doing the sports and activities you love.

Welcome, winter!

Categories: Staying Healthy

Tags: “Bloomington-Normal”, “Champaign-Urbana, “Sports, , Community, Medicine, Orthopedics, Winter