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PREVENT

How to enjoy winter activities and avoid orthopedic injuries

  • Common winter activities like skiing, snowboarding and ice skating carry risks of sprains, fractures and concussions. Proper equipment use and skill-level awareness are key to safety.
  • Walking on ice is a major cause of winter injuries. Techniques like shortening your stride and applying salt or sand for traction can significantly reduce the risk of falls.
  • Cold weather challenges like shoveling snow and driving in icy conditions can exacerbate joint issues and increase heart attack risk. Awareness and preparation are crucial for overall winter safety.

Minnesotans are among the most physically active people in the country, especially in the winter. While winter activities can increase the risk orthopedic injuries, there are steps you can take to enjoy your favorite winter pastimes safely.

Fun winter activities and common injuries

Snow, ice and frigid temperatures can leave you more vulnerable to injuries and aggravate existing joint issues. Before you go outside, review these safety tips:

  • Bundle up to stay warm and dry. It’s better to shed layers you don’t need than to need layers you don’t have.
  • In cold weather, your muscles, tendons and ligaments may be more prone to injury. Warm up with exercises like stretching or walking.
  • Wear footwear designed for icy and snowy conditions.
  • Before you skate or fish on any body of water, remember: The ice is never 100 percent safe.
  • Keep a cell phone easily accessible in case of a fall or injury.

Routine or work-related winter injuries

Winter injuries can happen to anyone, whether you participate in winter sports or not. Here are some of the most common causes of winter orthopedic injuries:

Walking on ice

Ice can be hard to see and can make your everyday routines hazardous. Slips and falls are the leading cause of injury among older Americans, according to the CDC.

Hip fractures are among the most severe injuries, especially for older adults who are at an increased risk due to osteoporosis or weakened bones. This is an emergency that requires urgent surgical treatment by an orthopedic surgeon.

When you're walking on ice: 

  • Shorten your stride length and slow down. Waddle like a penguin with slow, shuffled steps.
  • Be prepared to protect your head in case of a fall.
  • Apply salt or sand to driveways, sidewalks and stairs to improve traction on icy surfaces.

Shoveling snow

Shoveling snow is a chore and a workout that can aggravate existing joint issues and quickly increase your blood pressure and risk of a heart attack. The repetitive movements can cause shoulder, neck or back issues. If you have a heart condition or other health concerns, talk with your doctor about risk factors.

Driving

Drive cautiously in winter conditions or, if possible, stay home. Keep a winter survival kit in your vehicle.

Exposure to cold temperatures

Winter temperatures can bring on serious cold-related illnesses such as hypothermia and frostbite. Bundle up, stay dry and don’t expose your skin to frigid temperatures.

Winter activity safety tips

Some of the most dangerous and also popular winter activities include skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and sledding. While those are great family activities and ways to stay active during this winter, remember that the snow, ice and frigid temperatures can leave you vulnerable to injury.

Skiing and snowboarding

Concussions and minor injuries to the knees, neck, back, shoulders, wrists or ankles are common for skiers and snowboarders. Some injuries are more severe and involve fractures or ligament tears that may require surgery.

  • Inspect all equipment at the start of the season.
  • Ride within your skill level and avoid hills outside of your comfort zone.
  • Helmets are essential, and wrist guards are recommended.
  • Snowboarders may be tempted to break a fall using their hands or arms. That reaction can cause a sprain, dislocation or break to your wrist, elbow or shoulder.
  • ACL tears are common for skiers because of sudden stopping or changes in direction. Your ACL is one of the main stabilizers for your knee joint.
  • Snowboarders and skiers may experience a torn meniscus from over-bending the knee joint. The menisci are shock-absorbing cushions that help make up the knee joint.

Winter activities for kids

Research has shown that spending just a few minutes outdoors can benefit a child’s mental and physical health. Here are some popular winter activities for children and how to keep them safe:

Sledding

Sledding is a classic childhood pastime, but it can also be dangerous. More than 20,000 children are hospitalized with sledding injuries every year.

  • Go feet instead of head first to prevent concussions and other serious injuries.
  • Choose safe hills without trees, rocks, ice patches and other obstructions.
  • Never sled into roads, especially if there’s traffic.
  • Children should wear a helmet and be accompanied by their parents.

Ice fishing

More than 700,000 people ice fish Minnesota lakes every winter. The most common ice fishing injuries are orthopedic related, involving sprains, strains and broken bones.

  • Make sure the ice is safe to walk or drive on.
  • Bring an extra pair of dry clothes in a waterproof container. Wearing wet clothes in the cold can cause your body to lose heat and quickly put you at risk for hypothermia.
  • Use a sled instead of a backpack to move your fishing gear to prevent shoulder and back injuries.

Ice skating

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, offering plenty of natural options to skate. Common ice skating injuries include sprains and fractures to the wrists, knees and ankles.

  • Wear a helmet to prevent head injuries.
  • Learn the art of stopping and falling safely.
  • Avoid collisions by skating with the flow of traffic.

Geriatric winter falls

As you age, you begin to lose your balance and become more likely to fall. Bone density and ability to recover decrease with age, leaving older adults at risk of serious orthopedic injuries. Common injuries include head trauma and fractures to the hip, spine, ribs and arm.

  • Plan a safe route to your destination. That includes walking to your car, where you may encounter ice.
  • When in doubt, ask someone to help you walk outside.
  • Older adults are more vulnerable to hypothermia. Maintain your body heat by wearing a winter coat, hat, gloves and boots.

Take the next step

You can schedule an appointment with an orthopedic specialist near you and learn how we can help you return to your favorite winter activities.

Don’t let the frosty weather or risk of injuries melt your outdoor plans. Listen to your instincts and enjoy winter activities with safety in mind.

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