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Living Well

How to Prevent Winter Injuries

Last updated: Jan 15, 2018

This article is part of an ongoing health series contributed by SMG physicians for Montclair Local.

There is nothing more exhilarating than flying down the ski slopes on a beautiful winter day.  The fresh air nipping at your back, the untainted view of the bright blue sky, and the warmth of the sun beating down on the white snowy mountain. Since my children were old enough to hold ski poles, we have been taking a yearly family trip to Vermont.

While cold-weather sports are a great way to stay active and make lasting family memories, they are also one of the most common causes of winter injuries—along with slips and falls. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 246,000 people were treated for injuries related to winter sports in 2015.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that one in four Americans age 65 and older falls each year.

So how can you stay safe without hibernating all season? If you participate in winter sports, conditioning is key. At the beginning of every ski season, my office is flooded with ACL tears and shinbone fractures. You can’t expect to be sedentary most of the year and then jump on the slopes at first frost.

I have been skiing for over 50 years and I know that a good workout program can help prevent sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures. I rotate between core exercises, aerobic activity, and weight training to keep my body healthy all year long and strong for ski season. 

Even the best athletes can get into trouble with new sports. Unfortunately, I know this firsthand. My son was a well-trained skier and decided to take a stab at snowboarding without any instruction. Within 10 minutes, he fell and broke his hand. We learned the hard way to take a lesson before starting a new activity.

It is also critical to listen to your body. In my office, I frequently see patients with overuse injuries like tendinitis and pulled muscles that took their winter recreation a little too far. Let pain be your guide—if something hurts, back off the double diamond.

Winter is a hazardous time even without sports. As soon as the weather becomes cold, I begin to see several patients a day with lumbar strains or wrist and hip fractures who have fallen on the ice. It may not look bad outside, but black ice, which is very slippery and difficult to see, is the most common cause of outdoor falls.

Keep salt on the paths leading to your car and home. Be cautious and hold onto railings for support. Parking lots and walkways at the supermarket or restaurants may not have ideal walking conditions.

Slips and falls can be devastating for the elderly. Studies show that the risk of death nearly triples in patients over age 60 during the first year after a hip fracture.  As we age, our bones lose mass and become more susceptible to fractures. Women are particularly vulnerable to bone loss after menopause. I tell my female patients to start regular bone density testing at age 50.

Snow shoveling is also infamous for injuries. The truth is if you are in good shape, clearing the driveway can be good exercise. Make sure you use an ergonomic shovel, lift with your legs, and pace yourself. If you have high blood pressure or a bad back, ask someone for help.

Winter can be a magical time of year. Stay alert outdoors and be kind to your body.  Personally, I can’t wait to get back up on that mountain. I just need to finish up a few more sets of lunges first.