Low temperatures bring unexpected dangers that place people in recovery mode rather than keeping them involved and active during the winter. If you have gone through wintertime injury, you know how quickly a cold setting can lead to harmful situations. Simple steps can change your winter experience from avoidable pain and subsequent recuperation to a safe season filled with activities.
From stringing holiday lights to playing ice hockey, winter injuries range from the most uncomplicated tasks to rough games that leave bruises at minimum. However, you can take measures for basic wintertime exertions and extreme hobbies to avert slipping incidents, collisions and more.
What Are the Most Common Winter Injuries?
Winter incidents frequently occur because of wet ice and snow buildup. However, several injuries recur each time the weather turns frigid when people do not take appropriate cautions. The most common types of winter accidents are slipping on ice, snow removal, driving mishaps and winter sports collisions.
1. Slipping on Ice
The deceptive appearance of ice makes it a main contender for winter injury causes. Ice blends in with solid surfaces often and is even more hazardous when it's slightly melted. It sometimes looks like a puddle, and the slick surface can send your feet flying.
The main issue with slipping is the resulting fall. Strains, bruising, concussions and other harmful impacts could occur from a fall depending on the surrounding impediments and terrain. Attempting to catch yourself before the fall could even lead to painful blows to your wrists or pulling back or leg muscles. The older you are, the more difficult it will be for you to gather yourself after a fall.
Slipping on ice and snow can happen almost anywhere — in fact, 42,480 injuries caused by snow and ice occurred in the workplace in 2014. These injuries resulted in missing work and often require time off your feet which keeps you from your usual routine.
2. Snow Removal
Shoveling snow from your walkways is an attempt to avoid icy obstacles so you and your family can tread safely, but this repetitive and harsh activity combines slippery areas with sudden shoveling movements. An average of 11,500 snow shoveling accidents result in emergency room visits every year. Being struck by a snow shovel seems like an incident that would not require an emergency room visit often, but many lose their grip on the tool or accidentally hit a nearby person they were unaware of.
Deep cuts and tears or soft tissue damage were prevailing consequences of poor snow safety measures. The lower back usually sustains harm from shoveling, but the head and arms also are battered in snow removal endeavors.
Heart conditions can cause serious injury to people removing ice and debris from driveways. Seniors who have the strength to shovel snow can underestimate the extra risk that the cold adds to this chore. Hearts must exert more energy in these conditions and are more vulnerable if previous illnesses exist.
3. Driving and Collisions
Traveling on frozen and slick surfaces is even more dangerous off your feet and in a car. Snow and ice are the apparent instigators of many winter-weather car wrecks, but ice that begins to melt and sleet also produce collisions. Roads do not always reflect the air temperature and could have unexpected ice remaining on the surface even if the ambient temperature is above freezing.
Black ice — ice that appears to be damp pavement — tricks many drivers when they are unconcerned about the "wet" road in front of them. Without slowing down or attentively proceeding, drivers hit these dark, thin patches of ice and skid off the road or into other vehicles. Losing control of a car and colliding into others causes several injuries, many of which are severe and require emergency medical attention. Driving precautions save you, your passengers and other vehicles around you.
4. Colliding During Winter Sports
Whether you are a professional winter sports athlete or you hit the ski slopes with your relatives, ice and freezing temperatures combine for severe blows when tousling or exercising. Even children love to race up hills to sled down them, but winter sports injuries catch us when our joints are stiff and susceptible to injury due to the cold.
According to a 2015 report, snow skiing incurred the most injuries with 88,000 incidents. Snowboarding followed with 61,000 injuries, and ice skating was third with 50,000. Sledding is considered a safer winter activity, but many dislocations, fractures and broken bones result from falling off or flipping the sled. Any past injuries are in danger of flaring up again during winter athletics due to extra expended energy and the wear of ligaments in a harsh setting.
Who Is Most Affected by Winter Injuries?
Everyone handles falls, collisions and severe temperatures differently. Additionally, anyone can get hurt during a seasonal hobby or exercise. Younger children and older adults occasionally need more assistance in their efforts to work, play or participate in games.
While children have large amounts of energy and excitement to enjoy snow outdoors, they frequently fall or stumble. They also recover quickly and want to jump back into their fast-paced fun, but take the time to check for injuries they may not notice. Small children struggle with balance, too, so make sure their first attempts at balance-intensive sports, like skiing and snowboarding, are preceded by training and putting on safety gear.
When possible, send your child into the cold outdoors with a helmet, elbow and knee pads and any further protective gear available. If your child has fallen, examine them for acute injuries that need fast responses. As a rule, confirming heart and head health are the first priorities.
Supervise children at all times — they may need immediate attention or verbal reminders on how to prevent injuries.
Older adults may want to participate in as many winter activities as they can handle. From chores to entertaining grandchildren, seniors try to stay active all year. Former injuries, unstable footholds and overexertion are common pitfalls, especially during cold weather. Seniors have difficulty catching themselves before falls, and their weaker structures fracture or break more easily than adults and youths. Hip, knee and back injuries plague many older family members, and slipping outside complicates their propensity for brittle bones.
Traversing relatives' homes and shopping areas during the holidays is trying on their bodies. Offer assistance when possible, and look out for their safety as they get in vehicles and make their way along steep inclines. Walking supports may be helpful during busier and colder periods. A cane, walker or mobilizing chair system may simplify transportation.
3. Adults Who Have Previous Conditions or Extreme Activity
Former injuries, even in healthy adults, can worsen when muscles and tendons are stressed in the freezing climate. Previous heart conditions and illnesses can cause falls or increase the possibility of exhaustion-related injuries. Monitor signs of your or your family member's condition to catch reactions or deterioration well in advance. Diabetes often depletes nerve capability which alters sensation in feet — this can make walking or running on unstable or slippery ground even more precarious.
Adults who jog in the winter and perform other strenuous exercises in the elements also risk injury. Running on pavement or sidewalks with packed snow and ice and without salt can hurt ankles or lead to more painful falls. Familiarizing yourself with the most frequented and cleared running paths is an effective preventative measure. Balance is enhanced by regular conditioning and exercise, so keep up your fitness plan — just choose the right trail to brave in the cold weather. Athletes who avoid proper warm-ups and stretching can damage their more vulnerable appendages by poor preparation.
What Are Some Types of Winter Injuries?
Certain regions of your body sustain injuries that are more difficult to recover from and present more severe treatment plans. The frigid weather can make soreness and strains more difficult to cope with, but fractures, sprains, broken bones and dislocations are more than uncomfortable states to be in during the winter.
Head injuries can occur in vehicle collisions, person-to-person contact sports or simple falls on icy patches. Concussions are common head injuries resulting from blows to the head and jarring crashes. Losing consciousness momentarily or struggling to recall significantly information are both traditional concussion signs. Head pain and sensitivity to sound and light are other indicators. Concussions require limited recovery time in most cases, but these head injuries should be checked out by medical professionals immediately.
More severe brain injuries can also happen from an extreme fall, and severe cases could take longer to surface. Lifestyle could be greatly altered by the residual outcome of brain injury. Consult a physician if you have a head injury from an accident or a fall and rule out serious issues like brain complications as soon as possible.
Common shoulder injuries are dislocations and torn rotator cuffs. These manifest after intense clashes during winter sports or collisions on the ice. Sore shoulders from various winter chores are also common. Treat your shoulders with care and strive for safety during intensive activities in the cold.
Strained back muscles and over-extension can happen during winter sports in collisions or the maintenance of icy areas. Many people, especially seniors, experience backaches during particularly cold sections of the year. Chilly weather can increase arthritis pain, and seasonal affective disorder complicates chronic back pain. With the extra sensitivity of chronic back pain, approach your winter tasks with caution.
The lower back is associated with shoveling snow and a scraping or swinging motion. Avoid bending, lifting and twisting movements that stress your spine and place extra emphasis on your back when another portion of your body could compensate. Heat is an easy way to alleviate soreness and back pain not associated with spine damage.
Like most winter injuries, neck problems are often a result of not stretching and loosening the muscles before rigorous activities. Neck stretches may not be at the forefront of your mind as you participate in winter sports or embark on an involved task, but warming up your neck is vital.
Winter car wrecks cause whiplash and throw the neck back and forth, producing a painful effect that often takes a while to fade. Whiplash sometimes accompanies skiing, snowboarding and other intense winter sports. The rigidity that results is a nuisance that eventually wears off, but wearing protective gear can reduce the chances of whiplash during these rough activities.
Knee injuries are especially common in athletes who participate in winter sports that include high-impact activities. Bending or running wear the knee ligaments and significantly weaken them. Knee braces and heat are also helpful healing procedures for poor knees. Knee injuries may need surgery, including total knee replacement operations, so conserve your knee movements.
6. Wrist or Ankle
Wrist injuries are typical when slipping on ice and losing balance. As you attempt to catch yourself, you expose your wrists to the full force of the fall under your body weight. Bracing yourself is a natural impulse, but it can lead to sprains, breaks or fractures.
Ankles can also be injured as a result of instability on the ice. Ankles can be rolled, sprained, twisted, fractured or broken. Losing control of your footing could mean your ankle will come down in multiple directions with the possibility of serious harm. The foot and ankle areas also are under stress during the wintertime, resulting in stress fractures — a highly common foot injury during this season.
Elbows can be tweaked or strained when performing chores or snow removal from twisting motions. The danger of ice once again presents a threat, because falling can cause you to land on an elbow. A fracture, strain or dislocation can bring severe pain to your elbow and require medical care.
Hip injuries are more prevalent for seniors, who may have experienced a previous hip accident or surgery. Hip breakage often happens when freezing temperatures have created icy walkways and falling is more likely. Hazards around the house or outside on snowy pavement increase the possibility of falling and harming your hip. Hip injuries disrupt necessary functions like walking, climbing steps and even sleep.
How Can I Prevent These Injuries?
Preventing winter injuries is doable when you take the time to manage your walkways, wear the right gear and prepare for winter complications.
1. Best Practices:
Keep these essential tips in mind no matter what winter activity you're doing:
- Stretch and hydrate before removing snow from your driveway or sidewalk.
- Watch for icy patches in driveways or parking lots.
- Step in short motions to maintain balance and footing when walking on slippery ice.
- Choose the most salted path and remember to salt your own driveway and walkways.
- Offer assistance to seniors when they are traversing an icy area.
- Supervise children and monitor adults with previous conditions.
2. Winter Sports Tips:
When playing winter sports, take these extra precautions:
- Warm-up and thoroughly stretch to prepare your body for exercise.
- Put on protective gear before engaging in rough or strenuous winter games. Helmets, goggles, elbow and knee pads and other equipment can save you from serious injuries.
- Pace yourself and refuel or rehydrate during the game or activity to keep consistent energy.
- Familiarize yourself with your surroundings to avoid dangerous areas of a ski slope.
3. Winter Road Safety Tips:
Driving is particularly hazardous in the winter. Make sure you're prepared by following these tips:
- Keep your vehicle stocked with an ice scraper, first aid kit, emergency winter kit and a reflective safety vest.
- Equip your car with the proper tires to travel in your area safely. Icier and snowier areas should use snow tires.
- Check weather reports often before traveling in the dark.
What to Do When Injury Occurs?
If prevention methods do not work or you find yourself already injured, see a physician immediately. Take stock of the injury to determine whether it is an emergency or a less serious case. Soreness and minor injuries can require minimal treatment, and methods to treat these cases at home include painkillers, heating pads and rest.
Use preventative measures this winter season, and if an injury does occur, contact Mufaddal M. Gombera, MD. Submit an appointment request or call (713) 794-3457. Winter injuries are painful and inconvenient, but Dr. Gombera wants to help you get back on your feet as quickly as possible while providing effective therapies and professional service.
Dr. Gombera is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, arthroscopy and the treatment of injuries to the shoulder, hip and knee. If you or a loved one are located near Houston, Texas, see Dr. Gombera for your winter injuries.