Stay Safe This Winter

Kaitlynn Bonin fall prevention, Miscellaneous, Standard

It’s that time of year again. As Canadians, we’re no strangers to winter and the hazards that come along with it. After all, we experience winter for almost half the year. While it’s a time to get cozy in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy winter activities like sledding and skiing, winter also means ice and snow and with that, the potential for slips and falls and other accidents. Here are some tips to stay safe this winter.

Shoveling Snow
Ah, one of our national pastimes. Shovelling snow can make your whole body ache from your legs to your back to your arms. I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys shovelling snow, but if we want to get anywhere in the winter, we’ve gotta do it. Best case scenario – outsource it to a neighbour kid, or invest in a snow blower. If you can’t do that, the following steps will help you reduce your risk of injury:

  • Take five minutes to stretch beforehand to loosen and warm up your muscles and get your blood flowing, as cold or tight muscles are more prone to injury; don’t forget to stretch your hamstrings, as tight hamstrings put extra stress on your lower back.
  • To protect your back, use a lighter, plastic shovel with an ergonomically curved handle so you’re not bending as much.
  • And of course, bend at your knees and lift with your legs, not your back. Don’t twist or turn your back – turn your whole body, and keep your load light.
  • Pace yourself (this means more hot chocolate breaks!)
  • As if shovelling snow wasn’t already a pain, you should walk the snow you’re moving to its new location rather than reaching or tossing it, as this displaces your centre of gravity and leads us to our next point: slips and falls.

Slips and Falls
It’s not just the elderly who are at risk of falling in the winter – we all are. Wear warm boots with grips on the bottom to reduce your risk of slipping and falling on ice, and take smaller steps. Don’t worry about looking silly; good winter boots are becoming more and more fashionable while maintaining function. Wear gloves or mittens so you can keep your hands warm while out of your pockets in case you need to catch your balance. And don’t carry heavy or awkward bags and packages if you can help it! Load them up in a portable cart or sled to haul into your house. It wouldn’t hurt for people who have a higher risk of falling, like seniors, to see a physiotherapist for falls prevention to improve balance and coordination.

Car Accidents
30% of car accidents in Canada happen on snowy or icy roads. To combat this, it’s worth investing in winter tires. When winter tires became mandatory in Quebec, car accidents were reduced by 5% even though 96% of drivers were already using them. When Germany made winter tires mandatory, they saw a reduction in collisions by more than 50%. You wouldn’t wear flip-flops or running shoes in the snow, and winter tires are the equivalent of good winter boots. Remember, they don’t make you invincible, so you should still slow down. Some other car safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure your vehicle is completely scraped off so you have maximum visibility. Get a scraper that has a long handle so you’re not bending and reaching over your car.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your car stocked with blankets, extra clothes, water bottles and snacks like granola bars, in addition to the basics of jumper cables, windshield washer fluid, a first aid kit and flashlights.

If you do get in a car accident and are injured, a physiotherapist can help, even if you sustained a concussion.

Slow Down!
Don’t just drive more slowly in winter, walk more slowly too. Give yourself more time to get to where you need to go. If you do find yourself injured from a fall, car accident, or vigorous snow shovelling, consider seeing a pt Health physiotherapist. 63.9% of patients with back pain experience an improved outcome with physiotherapy – that’s 22% more effective than seeking treatment from a family doctor alone. As physiotherapists are primary care providers, you don’t need a doctor’s referral – you can go straight to them. Seeking care is the first step to feeling better, sooner.

We can’t hibernate for six months every year, but we can do our best to avoid the dangers of winter so we can make the most of this season that lasts so long.

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