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Sound Advice to Help Prevent Winter Falls

November 19, 2012

A fall can happen to anyone at any time and in any place, but the cold weather, with its ice and snow, makes your chances of falling even greater than at any other time of the year.  Besides just being embarrassed if someone witnesses your tumble, a fall has the potential of causing varying degrees of injury, from a simple bruise to a more serious head injury, broken bones, or even worse.  Christopher Lathrop, OTD, MS, OTR/L, director of rehabilitation at Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford, offers some important tips below that can help you reduce your risk of taking a spill this winter.

One of the most important things you can do to lessen your chances of falling on ice or snow is to wear the right boots or overshoes that will give you traction when walking.  Always be sure the footwear you’re wearing is appropriate for icy conditions – never walk in shoes that have smooth soles!  It can be dangerous and greatly increase your chance of slipping.

The way you walk is just as important as what you wear on your feet.  Remember to walk cautiously, and be alert to the possibility that you might run into an unseen patch of ice.  Also, your arms can help you stay balanced, so keep your hands out of your pockets and avoid carrying heavy loads that may cause you to lose your balance.  And avoid the temptation to run to catch a bus or beat traffic when crossing a street. 
Walk “small.”  This means don’t walk in an erect, marching posture, but look ahead to see where you’re stepping.  When walking in icy areas, take short, shuffling steps, curl your toes under, and walk as flatfooted as possible.
At your home, be sure to remove snow as soon as possible before it can become packed or turn to ice.  Keep your porch stoop, steps, walks and driveways free of ice by frequently applying ice melter granules, which is the best way to prevent the formation of dangerous ice patches. Using a potassium-based melter, such as Safe Step, rather than salt, will prevent damage to concrete, grass and other vegetation or to carpets and floors should you track some indoors. 
Unfortunately, even by following all of the above suggestions, a fall can still happen, and it can take less than two seconds from the moment you slip until you hit the ground. That’s precious little time to react. In that instant, the risk is an injury to your head, a wrist, hip or shoulder.  It’s important to tuck your body, lift your head and avoid trying to break the fall with a hand, which can cause a wrist injury. The idea is to make yourself as small as possible by rolling up into a ball.

If you do fall and injure yourself, be sure to ice anything that swells.  Even if you suspect something more serious, ice is a good ‘first-line’ of defense.  Avoid heat or heating pads with any swelling conditions.  Use walk-in orthopedic or walk-in clinics, which are quicker and usually have a smaller co-pay than the ER.  Any pain that lasts more than one week should be checked out by a physician.  And if physical therapy is needed, don’t delay.  It’s always easier to treat an injury when it’s fresh.

Should you need physical therapy, remember that Masonicare provides outstanding therapy in the newly-renovated outpatient physical therapy department, and also provides occupational and speech therapy as well.  The department is conveniently located in Masonicare’s Medical Office Building on the main campus in Wallingford.   Medicare, workers compensation and most commercial insurances are accepted.  For additional information or a consultation, please call 203-679-6909.