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Slip, Trips and Falls: How to Stay Safe in Icy Weather

With the holiday comes winter weather, and if you aren’t careful you might end up with more than presents under your tree. Slips and falls are the leading cause of injury to the elderly and are also a leading cause of workplace injuries in the U.S. Approximately 25 percent of ice and snow-related falls happen in parking lots, which means grocery and holiday shopping can be hazardous as well.

Winter-related slips, trips and falls not only cause countless injuries but also result in lost work, increased insurance costs and just a whole lot of pain. Here are some of our best tips on how to stay safe from falls in icy weather.

How to avoid ice-related slips, trips and falls

Prevention is key, so always be aware that ice may be present when the temperature is between 30 and 34 degrees. Black ice can be hard to see, so always walk carefully when walking on icy surfaces. Beyond that, other ways to prevent falls include:

  • Walk on designated, lighted walkways, especially those that have been salted or treated for ice.
  • Wear proper footgear with lots of traction.
  • Take smaller steps when walking in winter conditions and walk slowly.
  • Keep your hands free and use them for balance. Don’t keep them inside your pockets.
  • Get rid of distractions when walking. Put your phone away and try not to carry big loads when walking.
  • If you have no choice but to walk on ice, take short shuffling steps, bend slightly to make sure your center of gravity is over your feet and be prepared to fall. 

If you do fall, here’s what you need to do

  • Avoid using your arms to catch yourself.
  • Try to land on your thigh, buttocks or shoulders and roll with the fall. By rolling, the force from the fall will be more distributed throughout the body. 
  • Try to roll backward, and tuck your head and shoulders in so that you don’t slam your head on the ground. 
  • If you are carrying something, try to land on what you are carrying to help break the fall or toss the items away. 

How to treat injuries from slips and falls

If you slip on the ice and fall, the first thing you should do is to determine if you are hurt. Take a few minutes to check your body for pain or injuries. If none seem to be present, try to get up slowly. If you’re with someone who fell who is unable to get up, call for help and keep him or her warm.

Whether you think you are hurt or not, sit still for a few minutes to calm yourself and get your bearings. If your or someone else's head hit the ground, or if it appears that a bone is broken, call emergency services immediately. 

Even if you aren’t seriously injured, a bad fall can leave you bruised and achy for days. If you have a bad bruise or sore muscles, use the RICE Method: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. A sprained ankle, for instance, should be iced down and wrapped and kept elevated to reduce swelling and pain.

Over-the-counter pain relievers also help with soreness. Keep in mind that recovery can range from a few days to several weeks. Also remember that some injuries from falls may not show symptoms right away. If you don’t improve within a few days, call your physician. 

Additional tips to treat injuries include:

  • Applying ice or cold packs immediately to prevent or minimize swelling.
  • Using the ice or cold pack three times a day for at least 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Switching to heat compresses after three or four days once the swelling goes down. The heat helps to increase blood flow, which could reduce bruising.

Recovery takes time

Icy weather isn’t always to blame. On average, one in three adults over the age of 65 who lives at home can be the victim of a fall. Luckily, only about half of the falls result in pain or injury, but a loss of confidence, especially in the elderly, can occur.

In winter, the most common injuries from icy slips and falls are injuries to the wrist, ankle and shoulder, but lower back injuries are common as well. If you notice growing pain or swelling in the days after a fall, consult with your physician because you could have a fracture or a small break. While many injuries can be treated with ice and compression, others may need surgery. 

Slips, Trips and Falls

Drinking and medication

The holidays are full of celebrations, but too much alcohol can also cause slips, trips and falls. According to the Alcohol Rehab Guide, “A third of fatal and nonfatal falls involve alcohol (though any fall has the potential to be fatal for the elderly).”

Because alcohol impairs balance, motor skills and common sense, it can make falling on icy surfaces even more likely. If you are drinking, take care not to walk on slick surfaces and do not drive at all. Every day, 29 people are killed due to drunk driving, and a third of all traffic-related deaths involve alcohol.

Some medications can also make you unbalanced on your feet. Any psychotropic medication that affects the brain or medications that affect cardiovascular function can increase your risk of falling. Antidepressants, sedatives, anticonvulsants and narcotics also have an effect on cognitive function, which means you could experience impaired balance or slower reaction times. Be sure to talk with your doctor to find out if your medication can affect your balance and take steps to prevent falls on ice.

While you can’t always prevent a fall, taking preventive measures certainly helps. When walking in icy weather, focus on what you are doing and be aware of your surroundings. No one likes to fall, and we don’t want it to ruin your winter festivities. Read more winter weather safety tips in our preparing for extreme winter weather blog post. 

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