Preventing Slips and Falls this Winter

By Joseph Tauro, M.D., Director of Ocean County Sports Medicine

‘Tis the season for snow and ice. With colder weather, slips and falls become more common. As we head into the winter months, I urge you to exercise caution to avoid hurting yourself and potentially causing severe injuries. As an orthopedic surgeon, I tend to see an influx of patients in the winter who are suffering from injuries sustained from a fall. According to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, slips and falls account for 300,000 serious injuries and 20,000 deaths a year in the United States – many of these injuries in the northern states have to do with improper snow and ice removal in the winter months. Use these practical tips and advice to minimize your risk and help reduce your chances of getting injured.

  • Wear appropriate footwear. As the temperature steadily drops, wear footwear that is appropriate for the conditions inside and outside. Rough, rubber slip-resistant soles are needed in wet weather to provide better traction, and boots should be worn on snowy days. I strongly encourage females to avoid wearing high heels this time of year. Upon entering a building, clean your footwear of mud, snow and salt.
  • Walk slowly. Both the outdoors and inside may be wet and have slippery walking surfaces, so exercise caution. Be prepared for black-ice formation after melting occurs and avoid those patches. Be mindful of your surroundings after parking and take your time when entering and exiting the car. If you have no choice but to walk on ice or a slippery surface, shorten your stride or shuffle your feet and bend slightly forward for better stability. Although your hands may be cold, keep them out of your pockets when walking for steadiness.
  • Be attentive. Pay attention to where you’re going and avoid distractions from your phone or other devices when you’re walking. Before unloading your car and carrying items, scan the area around your and plan your travel path. When possible, use a backpack or cart when carrying a load of objects, to keep your arms and hands empty and free to move for stabilization. While walking on stairs, always use the handrail.
  • Keep floors clean and dry. At your home, it is important to clean up any unsafe conditions, such as spills or electrical cords from your lights, which could cause someone to trip and fall. Mop your floors continually and place non-slip absorbent mats at the entrances to your house. If there are any hazards at your workplace, take the initiative to warn others and tell the appropriate person so it can be cleaned up or isolated with cones and signs.
  • Create safe pathways. On your own property, shovel your driveways, walkways and sidewalks during the winter season, and line them with salt or sand, if possible, to minimize the effects.
  • Lend a helping hand. The elderly and those with young children may need help while getting out of a car or walking to a destination. Offer help if you can, and if you are older, don’t shy away from asking others for a hand.

If you do slip, try to roll with the fall if you begin to fall forward, or sit down if you begin to fall backward. Try to avoid landing on your knees, wrists or spine. Wearing thick clothing can help pad your bones and minimize the injuries produced as a result of falls. If your hands are full, toss the load you are carrying and focus on protecting yourself instead of the objects. Although it may be difficult, make a conscious effort to relax and avoid tensing your muscles. When a falling person relaxes, an injury is less severe, and on the other hand, when someone fights a fall an ice, injuries can be more serious.

Remember that prevention is the first step in avoiding serious injuries during the winter in snowy and icy conditions, and preparing yourself, your home and your workplace can go a long way. By following these practical tips of advice, you can reduce your risk and your loved ones’ risk of getting hurt. If you do suffer an injury, be proactive in seeking help and visit your physician if you think you may have a more serious injury.

Dr. Tauro is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Ocean County Sports Medicine, located in Toms River, NJ. He specializes in the prevention and treatment of sports injuries and degenerative joint conditions. Dr. Tauro also serves as Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Rutgers Medical School.

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