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Common Orthopedic Injuries in Winter

The winter months are a perfect time to grab a seat on your couch, prop your feet up with a warm blanket and relax. The days are shorter, temperatures are colder and more people focus on indoor activities.

But, injuries still happen during the winter due to weather changes, such as snow or ice, and an increase in winter sports activities. To help keep you and your family safe this winter, David B. Parker, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center, provides information and insight into common orthopedic injuries during the colder months some tips on how to stay safe.


Slips and falls on ice or snow

Driving on slippery winter roads isn't the only concern you face each year. It's easy to suffer an injury simply by walking on ice-covered surfaces, such as steps, porches, sidewalks and driveways.

"Most injuries one would expect are related to slips and falls," Dr. Parker says. "This can lead to a higher incidence of ankle, wrist, and even hip fractures in the general population."

What can you do? For starters, here are some tips on staying safe in icy weather. Dr. Parker also recommends these helpful tips.

"To prevent falls, I would say make sure you're taking extra precautions to avoid icy walkways and stairs," he says. "Walk where the sidewalks have been cleared and salted to prevent slips and falls. Be sure you're wearing comfortable, supportive shoes with a strong grip and use handrails when available."

You can also put rock salt or other chemical compounds, such as calcium chloride, on your porch or steps to reduce the risk of falling.

These products lower the ice and liquid's freezing point, thus making it harder for surfaces to freeze over. If you have pets or plants at your house, consider using calcium chloride as rock salt can cause harm to the environment. Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping. The sand doesn't melt the ice, but it can provide more traction for your shoes to grip.


Sports-related injuries

Oklahoma isn't necessarily a breeding ground for winter outdoor activities such as skiing or snowboarding. But, many Oklahomans make the trek to nearby New Mexico or Colorado to spend time in the snow-covered mountains.

While these activities are fun and a good source of cardio, they're also problematic for injuries such as fractures, breaks, sprains, strains and dislocations. In fact, about 600,000 annual accidents happen to people who ski or snowboard, according to research from Johns Hopkins University.

You can limit severe injuries simply by wearing a helmet to avoid potential brain trauma during a crash. The higher likelihood is falling and injuring your arm or wrist. You're also at a higher risk for knee troubles such as an ACL tear or meniscus injury. An injury of that magnitude could set you back months in recovery, so it's better to be safe on the slopes than try to race down advanced courses for the thrill.

"Treatment for knee and wrist injuries varies," Dr. Parker says. "Most sprains, for example, require rest, anti-inflammatory medications and, occasionally, physical therapy. More severe injuries, such as broken bones, may require surgery."

When it does snow in Oklahoma, be sure to take precautions if your children or grandchildren want to play outside or sled down hills or other sloped surfaces. Children, especially those who are younger, could run into hard objects or lose their balance and fall awkwardly, putting them at risk for fractures, sprains and dislocations. Supervise any outdoor activities to be safe.

"In cold weather, many young athletes participate in sports performed indoors, so we can expect similar injuries to other contact sports seen during warmer weather," Dr. Parker says.


Injuries from car accidents

Oklahoma winters tend to be dry, with nightly low temperatures hovering around the freezing line. In the event of precipitation, these temperatures increase the likelihood of mixed accumulation, such as sleet, snow, ice and freezing rain all in one storm system. Roads covered in snow and ice reduce pavement friction and vehicle maneuverability, heightening your risk of a car crash, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).

Each year, about a quarter of weather-related crashes occur during these wintry conditions, according to the FHA. This leads to over 116,000 injuries, which can range from broken bones and dislocations to spinal cord trauma in your neck or back.

Safe driving during the winter starts with your car. Consider putting snow tires on your vehicle, which will provide more traction when driving. If you don't have a garage or overhang, buy an ice scraper and clear your car and windows so you can see. They're inexpensive and a more practical use of your time than heating your car up for 20 minutes and letting the defroster do all the work — if you plan on sitting in your car while it warms up, make sure snow isn't blocking your exhaust to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Whatever you do, don't pour hot water on your windshield to try to melt the ice or snow. This can shatter the glass.

When driving, give yourself time to get to your destination so you can avoid speeding. Take an alternate route to avoid overpasses and bridges that are more prone to icing over. You should also follow at a safe distance in case the car in front of you stops or slows down suddenly.


Back problems from shoveling

Oklahoma weather changes by the hour, so it's common for snow or ice to melt the next day, or even hours later, after it accumulates. This isn't always the case, though, and you may have to shovel your way out of the driveway to get to work or to prevent areas from icing over.

Shoveling may not seem like a dangerous activity, but emergency rooms see around 11,500 snow shoveling-related incidents each year. More specifically, improper use of snow shovels can often lead to back strains or disc issues. To be safe, lift with your legs — not your back — and avoid lifting heavy amounts. Instead, work in small areas or push snow off to the side in batches.

Before you head outside and brave the cold weather, warm up inside with some basic stretches to loosen your muscles. Cold, tight muscles and sudden, heavy movements don't mix well.


"Orthopedic surgeons provide an array of services for musculoskeletal injuries," Dr. Parker says. "We often will have more direct access to therapists and know a variety of treatment options that can be tailored to the specific needs of our patients. We are always happy to serve our community with any musculoskeletal ailments or injuries."

If you suffer an injury this winter, contact an INTEGRIS Health orthopedic surgeon for more information. INTEGRIS Orthopedics Central can treat arthritis, fractures, sprains, joint treatments, dislocations and perform surgery if needed.


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