For many people, wintertime evokes joyful memories — skiing for the first time with the family, teaching kids how to shovel snow. But unfortunately, these memorable winter activities are often accompanied by injuries due to the season’s cold and icy conditions.
Each year, tens of thousands of people in the U.S. injure themselves during winter activities, from sports like skiing and sledding to everyday chores like shoveling and hanging or removing holiday lights. In 2018 alone, nearly 200,000 people were treated for injuries related to skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and sledding, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Plus, research shows shoveling-related injuries send an average of 11,000 people to the ER each year.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from common winter injuries using these expert tips from Jessica Wertz, DO, Sports Medicine Specialist at Inova.
1. Avoid wrist injuries by learning how to break your fall. Dr. Wertz says Inova sees countless fractured wrists from people who tried to break their fall while sledding, skiing or snowboarding. “Whether you are a skier or a snowboarder, get proper instruction and make sure they are teaching you how to fall properly,” she says.
2. Always wear a helmet while playing sports to limit head injuries. Dr. Wertz and her colleagues often see concussions in the wintertime, primarily due to winter sports. Although wearing a helmet does not necessarily prevent concussions, it can make them less severe.
“It is not that a helmet is going to protect someone from a concussion — because it won’t — but if you are wearing one, it could prevent you from a more serious head injury, like a skull fracture or brain bleed,” Dr. Wertz says.
3. Only allow children to sled sitting up. “A lot of kids get excited about sledding different ways,” Dr. Wertz says. “But I do not recommend they sled face first or on their stomach because there’s an increased risk of concussion and injuries to the wrist and arm.”
4. Do not bite off more than you can chew while shoveling. Dr. Wertz says she sees myriad shoveling injuries each year, primarily because people will shovel for one, two or even three hours despite not having the physical stamina to exert themselves for that long. “They overdo it,” she says. “I see a lot of overuse injuries, especially injuries to the back, shoulder, neck and elbow area. People get tendinitis. I’ve even seen people tear their rotator cuff or come in with acute back injuries, like disc herniation.”
These injuries can be prevented by lifting through the legs (instead of the back) and pushing the shovel instead of lifting it. “I usually recommend a smaller shovel, so you are lifting half the amount of snow,” Dr. Wertz says. “That way, you are not putting all of that pressure on your arms, shoulders and back area. That can help reduce injuries.”
5. Hire a professional to take care of outdoor chores. Dr. Wertz says she has seen people injure their knee from climbing up and down a ladder, not to mention more severe injuries — like fractures to the wrist and upper extremities — when a fall occurs.
If possible, avoid using a ladder to do anything on the roof, like taking down holiday decorations or cleaning the gutters, and hire a professional to get the job done instead. If you assess the situation and decide you’re comfortable using a ladder, make sure someone is outside with you in case you fall, Dr. Wertz says.
6. Stay inside when conditions are slick or icy. Dr. Wertz says she always advises older people to stay indoors when it is cold or icy outside because their chances of falling can be more significant. “Many older people are already not as steady on their feet due to many factors,” she says. “We see a lot of wrist fractures, upper extremity fractures and hip fractures, and those can be pretty debilitating, especially for the older population.”
If an older person needs to go outside during icy conditions, she says it is essential to make sure someone accompanies them and clears all walkways.
Inova Urgent Care locations provide care when you need it. Locations throughout Northern Virginia are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 7 days a week.
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