While December feels like the perfect month to huddle around a fire with cozy blankets and a warm drink, family gatherings and holiday shopping lure us from our homes and into the wintry weather outdoors. Though beautiful, snow and ice can create some potentially hazardous conditions, so preparedness is ideal for keeping your winter outings enjoyable.
Keep your balance
“A common scenario we see are people who have gone outside in potentially slippery environments wearing inadequate footwear,” says Marcus Romanello, MD, chief medical officer at Fort Hamilton Hospital. “Consider wearing sturdy boots with good traction and changing into your dress shoes when you arrive at your destination.”
Making sure that your shoes have proper traction on the bottom and avoiding shoes with smooth soles or heals will help you maintain your balance when you encounter slippery surfaces outside.
Other conditions that could become dangerous with snow or ice on the ground include porch steps or slick spots just outside of the home.
“People will step out just to let the dog out or to get the mail and think it’ll be a short trip, but it ends up being an actual trip,” Dr. Romanello says.
To prevent falls or other injuries in these conditions, make sure you have installed proper handrails to any steps outside of your home and clear the snow and ice with ice melt. Other substances, such as sand or even cat litter, can be used in a pinch to provide extra traction. If you have a considerable amount of items to carry to and from your car, such as groceries or presents, take multiple trips to avoid carrying too much at once.
When walking across large parking lots or for a considerable distance, don’t rush.
“Slow down, walk with a slightly wider gait to increase your balance, or add a third point of contact with the ground with a cane or an umbrella,” says Dr. Romanello. “You may also consider strap-on spikes for the bottoms of your shoes for really bad conditions.”
Another effective form of fall prevention is exercise.
“People who exercise have stronger, better coordinated muscles that contribute to less falls,” Dr. Romanello says.
When accidents happen
Even if you take every precaution, it’s still possible that a patch of ice will go unnoticed and you will lose your balance. If you do fall, know what to do to care for any injuries.
“If you hit your head and lose consciousness, you absolutely should undergo a medical evaluation,” Dr. Romanello says. He warns that if you hit your head and you are taking any sort of blood-thinning medication, it is also important to be evaluated.
If you have severe pain in any of your limbs or swelling that is not relieved with ice, you should be assessed for potential fracture. Dr. Romanello says the most common injuries are or broken wrists, hips, and ankles or bruised tailbones.
“Be safe, and if you do get injured, visit the Emergency Department for an expert,” Dr. Romanello says.