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Watch Your Step! 5 Tips to Stay Safe this Winter

Like clockwork, December ushered in a deep freeze with several inches of icy snow around the Chicago area. While that’s not surprising, I was taken aback by how many ankle and wrist fractures we have already treated from people slipping and sliding on wet surfaces. It’s only a ground level fall but if you are not careful, you can really hurt yourself, especially on outdoor steps.

Furthermore, for those anxious to hit the slopes, here’s some sobering news: More than 246,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctors' offices, and emergency rooms for injuries related to winter sports in 2015, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

88,000 injuries from snow skiing 61,000 injuries from snowboarding 50,000 injuries from ice skating 47,000 injuries from sledding, tobogganing, and snow tubing

With more snow in the forecast, even the hardiest Midwesterners need tips (or reminders!) about staying injury-free this winter, whether they’re skiing, shoveling or simply dashing out to get the mail. Here’s how to stay safe:

• Avoid the problem by preventing it the night before. Consider throwing salt on your driveway if the forecast predicts snow or ice.

• It’s important to have the right clothing and footwear. It’s tempting to walk out in slippers to pick up the newspaper or mail but take a moment to throw on boots with traction. If shoveling, remember that cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more vulnerable to injury so make sure you wear proper outerwear, which includes layers, a warm hat and gloves. If you are comfortable from the cold, you are less likely to fall.

• Take the time to stretch your arms, back, and legs before any high-level activity. For shoveling, technique is crucial. Too often I see people shovel and lift snow off the driveway like they are digging a hole. There’s no need to fight gravity. Push the snow and let the shovel do the work to avoid straining your back.

• If you participate in outdoor winter sports, make sure you wear the right equipment. Always wear a helmet and one that is specifically designed for the sport. A bike helmet is not made for snow skiing. 

• Avoid participating in any outdoor winter sport or chore if you’re exhausted or tired. Know your limits. It’s tempting to try to get some shoveling done after work, but it’s best to wait until you’re well rested so not to risk injury. 

• Diego Villacis, MD, is an orthopaedic surgeon with the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute in Evanston.