How to Prevent Winter Injuries?

Even though the winter months are slowly drawing behind us, we realize that living in Edmonton can mean snowfall well into late April and even May.  With this said, and in light of the heavy snowfalls we have experienced so far this year, it is crucial to bring awareness to some of the common injuries faced in the winter and some ideas to prevent any long-term issues.

Our Edmonton winters can fluctuate wildly between -30s and positive single digits.  With this variance, we can experience heavy melting and re-freezing, resulting in ice build-up on roads, walkways, stairs, etc.  Physiotherapists can see an influx of injuries over these times, so we wanted to share some thoughts on how to navigate through these conditions:

Prevent Slips & Falls

Have you checked out those treads?

Just like the tires on your car, the treads on your boots or shoes can get worn down and become smooth, offering little to no grip on ice and snow, which makes you more prone to falls.  Keep an eye on your footwear at the beginning and throughout the winter season, and when the time comes to invest in some new footwear, select ones with rubber soles and non-slip treads.  Another option if you are out and about regularly is buying spikes or coils that you put over your shoes to help your grip on ice and snow.  With this option, however, you need to be aware that even though spikes can help you to avoid a fall on ice, they can be pretty slippery on some types of surfaces.

Watch out for icy sidewalks

As silly as this may sound, many have talked about the penguin shuffle campaign over the past few years.  The rationale is that walking like a penguin and shuffling or keeping your feet close to the ground helps to maximize the contact between your shoes and the sidewalk, which helps keep you balanced and on your feet!

A fall, though painful for most, can be detrimental to a senior.  Fall prevention is essential for seniors all year round but is even more important during winter when we experience more slippery sidewalks and streets.

For more information on preventing slips and falls for seniors, visit https://findingbalancealberta.ca/

Safe Winter Driving

Every year we hear about a massive spike in collisions with the first significant snowfall.  With this comes the associated rise in whiplash injuries due to these collisions.  When it comes to driving in the winter, it is best to take advice from the experts:

  • Leave enough room between cars – icy conditions may not affect your reflexes; however, they will affect the braking ability of your vehicle and the vehicles around you.
  • Don’t speed – High speeds can result in more aggressive impact when the car cannot brake properly due to icy conditions.
  • Raise your headrest – in the case of a collision, a properly positioned headrest can prevent your head from snapping back violently, causing whiplash.
  • Consider winter tires – winter tires provide a greater level of grip when experiencing icy conditions and can be instrumental in stopping in a crucial situation.

Consider Your Form when Shovelling

It’s great to be outside and get some fresh air while clearing the snow and ice from your driveway and sidewalk.  One thing to remember when shovelling is that bigger isn’t always better, especially when it comes to a giant shovel full of snow that you are trying to move!  Smaller shovels and a more manageable load can help to save your back.  Similar to the rules when lifting anything heavy, you must remember to lift the snow using your knees and not your back.  It is also essential to take breaks and rest your body.  Shovelling snow is similar to other types of exercise; you should warm up beforehand and pace yourself as you do at the gym.

Throughout the winter, it is a widespread occurrence for us to see patients coming into our clinics with injuries from shovelling.  Though shovelling injuries are easily treatable for the most part, people can easily avoid injuries from this kind of activity.

Some Tips Approved by Our Physiotherapists:

As with every winter in Edmonton, the one thing that we can count on is the large amounts of snow and ice that we will need to deal with.  To help keep your body free from injury this winter, we wanted to share some tips to help you move the snow safely:

  • Warm-up: A person’s body is more prone to injuries when cold, so it is imperative to ensure you get your blood flowing and your body is warm before you start shovelling! Before heading out in the cold to clear away the snow, some simple exercises to consider are leg swings, bent torso twists or jumping jacks.
  • Pick the right shovel: As mentioned, it isn’t a contest to move the most snow in one swoop! Look for a lightweight pusher-type shovel to ensure a lighter load.  If using a metal shovel, you can spray it with Teflon first so that snow won’t stick to it.
  • Don’t let the snow pile up: As experienced in Edmonton on many winter days, snow does not just fall for an hour and stop.  We tend to see long periods of snow that can pile up.  In these situations, we suggest frequent shovelling as it will allow you to move smaller amounts of snow at once while getting lots of fresh air and exercise.  There’s nothing worse than a heavy snowfall that someone has left, only to have the weather warm up a bit, causing the light snow to become heavier and slushy. 
  • Push, don’t throw: Always push the snow to the side rather than throw it. That way, you avoid lifting heavy shovelfuls of snow and sudden twisting or turning movements.
  • Bend with your knees: As with all heavy objects, you need to use your knees and your leg and arm muscles to push and lift while keeping your back straight.
  • Take breaks: If you ever feel tired or get short of breath, stop and rest. A short break offers time to shake out your arms and legs.  If you start feeling chest or back pain at any point, Stop shovelling immediately!  If you have back pain that is severe or that persists for more than a day after shovelling, see a physiotherapist.  If you have severe chest pain, see a doctor immediately.
  • Treat an injury quickly: As we age, it’s normal to feel sore and stiff after shovelling. If the pain gets to a point where it is disabling, you must make an appointment with your physiotherapist to have the appropriate treatment applied to the injury.  They can treat the injury and give you pointers or exercises to help prevent similar injuries from happening in the future!

Skiing & Other Winter Sports

Living in Alberta provides the luxury of being close to the mountains and for many diehard skiers and snowboarders, hitting the slopes is the highlight of the winter season (if not the entire year).  As with any strenuous activity, we encourage you to make the most of ski season by participating in pre-season conditioning, doing sport-specific exercises, checking your equipment and being safe.

For any questions or advice related to Winter Injury Prevention or Treatment, contact one of our trained physiotherapists at Innovation Physical Therapy!