It’s during this time of year that the rate of slips, trips and winter injuries is set to rise. With less daylight, wet leaves and slippery ice, it can lead to treacherous walking and driving conditions. It’s therefore important to be aware of the risks that come to the fore during the colder season so that you can take action and reduce the likelihood of injury. Jonathan Bell, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Wimbledon Clinics, explains what to be wary of during winter and how you can stay safe.
How do winter injuries occur?
There are three main areas in which winter injuries are most likely to occur:
Slipping and falling on ice and snow.
Driving in adverse weather conditions.
Falling or colliding during winter sports and activities.
A slip or a fall is most likely to occur when a drop in temperature causes the slush, snow or wet pavements and roads outside to develop a sheen of ice. In fact, although people tend to avoid going out when snow or sleet is actually falling, the greatest risk is the ice that comes afterwards, as most shoes worn on a day-to-day basis don’t offer the necessary grip to handle this kind of slippery surface. Even ski boots are ill-equipped to deal with ice as they are not flexible; a better option is a pair of hiking boots or a rubberised stretchy shoe cover such as the PETZL Spikey Ice Grip.
Driving in adverse weather conditions can be hazardous due to poor visibility, decreased manoeuvrability and difficulties managing speed. Some people assume that the make of your car is the defining factor when it comes to handling these conditions, but sturdy winter tyres are much more effective at reducing risk than your car being a 4×4.
Finally, watch out for falls or collisions during winter sports and activities, particularly at the end of a day of activity when you are likely to be tired. Tiredness can cause skiers to take less of the turns which help control speed, thereby raising the risk of losing control. Try to ensure you do not over-exert yourself and pay close attention to the other skiers on the slopes as well as your own actions.
Who is most at risk?
There are three groups that are most at risk of winter slips, falls and collisions:
Children are smaller and so more vulnerable to injury. They can be less aware of their surroundings and have little fear of the consequences of a slip or fall. In terms of winter sports, they can also pick up speed quickly on skis and helmets can cover their ears which makes it even harder to be aware of potential dangers.
Seniors tend to be cautious during the winter months but are nonetheless a vulnerable group. As we age, we tend towards a decrease in strength, bones that are more fragile and sometimes issues with balance, thus increasing the risk of a fall or fracture.
Winter sports enthusiasts actually raise their risk of injury after a few lessons on the slopes when they are starting to learn but have built a small amount of confidence; however, this risk decreases as the skill level gets higher. Interestingly, experienced skiers are most likely to injure themselves on a lower level slope, mainly due to a drop in attention and focus.
Type of injuries?
Two of the most common injuries during winter are breaks and sprains. Although these can occur in any part of the body, the usual suspects for a fracture are the shoulders, wrists and knees whilst sprains are most often seen in shoulders and wrists — particularly with snowboarders who often put stress on these areas when bracing against a fall.
Knees can be injured through jarring or twisting, with medial collateral ligament injuries being the most common complaint. Knee injuries can be minor but some, such as damage to the anterior cruciate ligament, can be much more serious and are likely to require surgery.
Thumb injuries are also common amongst skiers, with sprains to the ligaments dubbed ‘skiers thumb’ due to the regularity with which they occur. Fractures to thumbs are also prevalent, often resulting from getting caught in the wrist straps. These tend to be treated with splints or sometimes surgery.
Tips on how to prevent injuries
Steps for injury prevention this winter tend to be based around common sense. If you’re heading off on a winter sports holiday, pay attention to how much you have to drink at lunch and the night before you head out on the slopes.
Injuries in sports can be avoided by ensuring you are at the right level of fitness and strength to be able to participate safely and that you always ski according to your level of ability, the conditions and the time of year. Additionally, injury prevention is very much tied to ensuring you have the right equipment, properly adjusted to fit you. Remember rented equipment that has been specially chosen to fit you and match your needs is always a better option than borrowing, particularly when it comes to ski bindings that must be matched to your weight and height.
Common injuries can be avoided should you use the correct safety equipment and adhere to safety advice too. Take a qualified guide with you if skiing off-piste and wear a helmet and wrist guards where appropriate.
With the right amount of forethought and care, it’s possible to indulge in your favourite winter pursuits whilst minimising your risk of injury.