Help! I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!

Winter can be a treacherous time. Some hospitals report an almost 500% increase in emergency room visits during the winter. Many of these visits are the result of a slip and fall, which can culminate in major foot and ankle injuries. Oddly enough, scientists still can’t figure out exactly what makes ice slippery. One theory is that the top-most layer of water is caught between a solid and liquid form. The molecules move chaotically over the frozen layer, creating a volatile surface with a serious lack of traction between your foot and the ground. No matter what the truth is, we all know that feeling of our first unsteady step outside when it’s icy.

There are several ways to gain back your confidence while walking on snow or ice. When we walk on a stable surface, our body weight is split mid-stride, meaning each leg supports your entire weight at an angle to the ground. When we have good traction, this is not a problem, but in less than ideal conditions, this can cause a nasty fall. To avoid this, we can take a lesson from one of the cutest animals on the planet: penguins. Just maybe not THIS penguin. When a penguin walks, he supports his weight perpendicularly over each foot. By keeping our center of gravity always over the front leg, we can reduce the chances of slipping. Don’t carry heavy loads and keep your hands out of your pockets. Like the penguin, keep your arms out slightly and use them for balance.

When walking in snow, follow the leader! Compacted snow has better traction than fresh snow. Walking in someone else’s footsteps can help you keep your balance. If you want to be the brave leader who breaks the fresh fallen snow, walk heel to toe. Pressing your heel down first creates a hole that prevents your foot slipping forward and out from under you.

Proper footwear is also a chief factor in helping keep us safe in the winter. Pick boots with a deep rubber tread. Traditional athletic shoes are great for dry pavement and court floors, but don’t provide the support needed for walking on snow, ice or slush. To make your existing shoes snow-ready, consider buying some type of crampon. Several companies make simple strap on traction cleats without those crazy spiky looking things that you thought were only for mountain climbers.

If you do take a fall, do so safely. I know what you’re thinking; “how can falling be safe?” If you can, avoid falling onto your knees, hands, or spine. In the event of a backward fall, try tucking your knees and “rolling” onto the ground while pushing your chin toward your chest. For a forward or sideways fall, fight your natural instinct to push out your hands to break your fall. Instead, keep your arm parallel to your body. Falling on the fleshy parts of the body and relaxing as you fall can help reduce injury. If you are particularly accident prone, don’t be shy about wearing kneepads, wrist guards, or even a helmet. Thick clothing and coats can also help cushion you in the event of a fall.

If something unexpected happens, the FAAWC is here to help. Did you know that FAAWC offers Immediate Access hours? If you find yourself the victim of a sudden slip and fall resulting in a foot or ankle injury, don’t sweat it.  Urgent and/or emergency care is offered from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays. Patients will have “immediate access” to our doctors during this time for diagnosis and treatment of your injuries. On Friday, FAAWC is also open for walk-in appointments from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Injuries can happen at any time, but we certainly have an increased risk whenever there happens to be snow or ice on the ground. Don’t wait to get treatment for your winter injuries. Come see us and we can help get you back on your feet.

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