Preventing falls during the holiday season

Published 5:41 pm Friday, December 8, 2023

Tis the season of a million errands and shopping trips, and it just so happens to coincide with that time of year when ice and snow begin to impact travel, both in our cars and on foot.

In the north country, a good pair of boots isn’t always enough to protect your feet and ankles from injury if you’re not careful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 1 million adults in the U.S. are injured due to slips and falls every year, with the injury rate increasing significantly as temperatures decline.

“When it comes to slippery sidewalks and roads, vigilance truly is key,” says Trae Reed, physician assistant in orthopedics and orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin. “This can be especially true for adults with balance problems, or those who have ankle pain or instability.”

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So what can you do? Reed recommends the following tips while out running around on the snow and ice.

• Wear proper footwear: Be sure you have a pair of lightweight boots with good support. You also can purchase snow grips or ice cleats for the bottoms of your shoes or boots for just a few dollars.

• Take your time: Do not hurry while walking outside. Pay attention to your steps and walk slowly.

• Use assistance: Always use handrails, a walking stick, your walker or cane when out in winter weather.

• Take small steps: Small steps, almost from side to side, help you maintain your center of gravity. Take small steps and waddle a bit like a penguin.

• Stay inside: On days when it is icy and you do not need to go anywhere, stay home.

Reed also recommends that if you do feel yourself falling and cannot regain your balance, don’t try to brace your landing with an outstretched arm. That can lead to more injuries. Try to land on your buttock or back.

“After a fall, wait for someone to help you in case you are injured or to avoid subsequent falls,” says Reed. “Some people further injure themselves by springing up after a fall instead of waiting for help. Spinal and head injuries can be very serious, so anyone who has significant trauma to the head and spine should seek medical help.”

There are also slippery or icy surfaces that may be hard to see. Use extra caution near water runoff areas such as downspouts, landscaping, parking ramps and outdoor stairwells because of the possibility of black ice.

“Overall, just use your best judgment on the snow and ice, and take time to assess your path forward before taking steps,” says Reed.