Watch Your Step and Stand Tall: Preventing Winter Slips and Falls
When you step outside in the winter, you can’t always assume the ground will agree with the tread of your shoes. All it takes is a little bit of moisture and a frigid temperature for the pavement to become a dangerous ice rink. This is why slips and falls are a leading cause of injury this time of year.
Depending on age and overall health, a slip or fall can result in something as manageable as a wrist or ankle sprain, to something as severe as a hip fracture or head injury, says Samantha Adams, PT, DPT, NCS, senior physical therapist and clinic coordinator at Magee Rehabilitation – Cherry Hill.
“If you catch yourself and end up with a sprain, you could heal on your own, or you may need about six to eight weeks of physical therapy,” explained Adams. “However, injuries that result in spinal cord or brain complications will have much more long-term effects. We should try to avoid these at all costs.”
According to Adams, the key to preventing slips and falls is knowing your limitations. If you’re at a higher risk for falls – whether it’s because you’ve fallen before, have a balance or gait issue, a neurological issue, or walk with an assistive device – always be extra cautious. Also, if the weather is significantly bad, consider staying inside for the day.
“If it’s something you can delay or get a family member or friend to do for you, you should choose the safer route,” added Adams. “Even though independence is incredibly important to maintain as we age, some risks aren’t worth taking. For an older individual with significantly diminished bone mineral density, the results of a slip or fall can be catastrophic – more so than we realize.”
In addition to always using your cane or walker, if needed, it’s also essential to maintain and improve your strength, endurance, balance, and mobility. Your physical fitness will increase the likelihood of catching yourself or stopping a slip or fall, says Adams.
“One of the most advanced balance skills we have is called reactive balance,” explained Adams. “When you bump into somebody on the street, or step onto a slippery surface, your whole body should react. If you notice a weakness in reaction time, strength, endurance, balance, or mobility, speak with your doctor about attending physical therapy.”
If you have to recover from an injury in the wintertime, the cold temperatures may worsen your pain, especially if you have arthritis. Adams has also seen many patients who notice worsened nerve pain, from spinal cord injuries or strokes, on colder days. However, at the time, there is no proven correlation.
Unfortunately, the weather can also have an impact on attendance of PT appointments, which can slow progression. This is another reason why it’s important to ask a friend or family member for transportation, explains Adams.
When putting yourself first, sometimes the weather throws in factors that we have to take into account. When the ground is slippery, you should be comfortable and confident with each step you take. If you aren’t, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
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