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UPMC Doctor: Avoiding Winter Injuries

There are very polarizing opinions about winter weather — you either love it or hate it. While ice and snow are beautiful and bring winter sports fun, they can also cause treacherous conditions for roads and sidewalks with the potential to wreak havoc on our bodies. 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. Here are some common winter injuries to be aware of as well as some tips on how to prevent them and treatment options.

Preventing Common Winter Injuries

Slips and falls cause the most common winter weather related injuries — fractures. In the elderly population, 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. To help prevent slips and falls, consider the following tips:
– 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 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. To help prevent snow shoveling injuries, consider the following tips:
– 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

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. To help prevent Snowsport injuries, consider the following tips:
– 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

Frostbite, the freezing of skin and underlying tissues, and chilblains, or a painful itchy swelling caused by poor circulation in the skin when exposed to cold temperatures, are also concerns you should think about when it comes to winter weather. To help prevent frostbite or chilblains, consider the following tips:
– 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
Available Treatment

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 frostbite 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.

by Ronald Campbell, M.D.
Orthopaedic Care, UPMC

Ronald Campbell, M.D., is with UPMC Orthopaedic Care and sees patients at UPMC Outpatient Center, 24 Cree Dr., Lock Haven; UPMC Outpatient Center, 416 S. Main St., Mansfield; and UPMC Health Services Building, 1201 Grampian Blvd., Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Campbell at any of these locations, call 570-321-2020. For more information, visit