Do you remember the last time you fell? It’s never pleasant. And the older we get, the more dangerous falls become. According to the CDC:
- One in five falls leads to serious injury.
- 2.8 million older people visit emergency departments annually with fall injuries.
- Falls are the most common cause of wrist fractures, hip fractures, and traumatic brain injury.
OhioHealth hand surgeon Timothy Iorio, MD, says that wrist injuries spike with inclement weather. “In the wintertime, the number of people who come to my practice with wrist injuries can reach three to five a day. Wrist and collarbone fractures and shoulder injuries are common in falls because people often hold their arms stiff and turn their palms up when they fall. Our joints aren’t built to withstand that kind of impact, so they break.”
So let’s try avoiding falls altogether! Dr. Iorio offers these simple recommendations:
1. Wear suitable footwear.
“People who work indoors often wear shoes with high heels or slick soles that offer poor traction on ice and snow,” says Dr. Iorio. Don’t walk out of the house in shoes not made for winter weather, even to grab the mail. Get a pair of low-heeled boots that offer good grip. Carry your work shoes in a separate bag.
2. Give yourself extra time.
We often plan for extra drive time when it’s rainy or snowy, but factor in some additional time for walking, too. “When people rush, they fall,” says Dr. Iorio. “You may need to walk more slowly or choose a different route, but give yourself the time to be cautious.”
3. Clear your path.
“If you can’t see what you’re walking on, you significantly increase your risk of falls,” Dr. Iorio says. “Uncleared snow can hide ice and uneven walkways.” Keep steps, sidewalks, and driveways around your home shoveled, and favor cleared, salted walkways when you’re out and about. It’s also a good idea to carry a small flashlight to illuminate your path at night.
4. Keep your hands free (and warm).
“Carry your belongings in a backpack, purse or shoulder bag so you can grab railings if you slip,” says Dr. Iorio. And wear gloves! Walking with cold hands in your pockets increases your risk of head injury in a fall.
Even the most cautious among us may fall this winter. Falls can be embarrassing, and most people want to right themselves quickly and deny any serious injury. Dr. Iorio suggests you pause for a moment to make sure you’re not hurt. “Take a moment to assess yourself. You may have fractures or injuries in your joints that could worsen with increased pressure. Pain, swelling and bruising are signs of fracture.”
Dr. Iorio says it’s good to speak with your doctor after a fall. “An X-ray can rule out more serious injury, such as a fracture. Even if you don’t have a fracture, properly immobilizing a painful joint can improve outcomes.”