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UPMC Expert: Avoiding Common Winter-Related Injuries

With shorter days and unpredictable weather, the winter months can be particularly hard on our bodies. Ice and snow, harsh temperatures, and physical strain, particularly heavy lifting, are all part of the northeastern winter experience. Though many people may prefer to stay inside and wait for the outdoor activities until spring, getting some fresh winter air is important, not just physically, but mentally as well. But it doesn’t come without risk. Here are some common winter injuries to be aware of as well as some tips on how to prevent them and treatment options.

Common Winter Injuries

Even though these winter wonderlands can be pleasing to the eye, there are risks of injuries, especially from slips, falls, and shoveling snow. Snow and ice don’t discriminate. They can make anyone slip and fall anywhere, anytime. In addition, injuries can result from popular winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.

One of the more common, but serious injuries from a slip and fall, is a fracture. In the elderly, fractures from falls are more often seen in the hips. At the same time, younger people sustain fractures in other areas, including the extremities, shoulder, clavicle, and wrist. Head injuries can also happen from a slip on the ice and being knocked unconscious in blistering conditions can turn deadly.

Shoveling snow can be a pain in the back, literally, and the risk of lower back injuries is high when shoveling heavy snow. Shoulder pain and pulled or strained muscles are also common.

Though snow sports can be fun and exciting, they don’t come without risk. Whether sledding, skiing, or snowboarding, flying at high rates of speed down a slick hill can easily take a turn for the worst leading to head injuries and broken bones.

Prevention is Key

Preventing an injury, especially one that is the result of an accident, is easier said than done. Factors like unpredictable weather create the perfect recipe for something to happen. One of the biggest tips for avoiding injury is to use common sense and avoid situations that will put you at added risk. If you are participating in risky activities, consider taking steps for added safety. Here are some additional tips to help enjoy the season and stay safe:

Slips and Falls
– Wear non-slip shoes, especially when walking on ice
– Make sure all walkways are plowed and have salt and cinders on them
– Hold on to someone or something for support
Walk slowly and take small steps, keeping your feet under you

Shoveling or Working in the Snow
– Try to exercise lightly before shoveling snow
– Lift with your knees and not your back
– Use a lightweight shovel
– Avoiding twisting motions
– Wear a back brace
– Take frequent breaks

Snowsport Injuries
– Stretch and warm up before going down the slopes
– Strengthen the leg muscles on off days
– Use well-maintained skis, properly fitting boots, poles, ski/snowboard goggles, and a helmet
– Don’t go at it alone, have a buddy with you when participating in winter sports

Chilblains and Frostbite
– Avoid or limit your exposure to the cold
– When you come in from the cold, rewarm the skin gradually
– Dress in layers of loose clothing and wear mittens, a scarf and a hat, and warm, water-resistant footwear
– Cover all exposed skin as completely as possible when going outside in cold weather.
– Keep your hands, feet, and face dry and warm

We’ve all been there. We’re shoveling snow or just walking down the sidewalk, take a wrong step and bam, we hit the ground, quickly get to our feet, look around to make sure no one saw us and get back to what we were doing, usually with added aches and pains. It’s not just our pride that is aching either. Bumps and bruises are bound to happen, and we must treat them accordingly or even get checked out by a medical professional.

The R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate) is good practice for bumps, bruises, and sprains, but more serious injuries should be looked at by a physician, especially if your condition worsens.

Exposure injuries, like frostnip and chilblains can be treated by rewarming. All other frostbite-type injuries require medical attention because it can permanently damage skin, muscle, bone, and other tissue.

Being active in the winter is a great way to stay healthy and avoid the winter blues. While some people like to enjoy the cold winter months hibernating indoors, you may enjoy cold-weather sports and outdoor activities. No matter what your preference is, we want you to be safe and avoid a trip to an emergency department.

Annalisa Negrea, RN, is an injury prevention coordinator with UPMC Trauma Services at UPMC Williamsport. For more information, visit