Few things can match the beauty of a frosty winter’s morning bathed in sunshine. But, for all of its glittering beauty, winter can be a hazardous time and it is one of the peak times for injuries.
We see many fractures to the wrist, arm and forearm at this time of year, which can occur when people slip and put their hand out to try and stop themselves from falling.
Hip fractures also increase during the winter. A 2016 survey, published in Age and Ageing, estimated that hip fractures go up by more than 15% during December. The impact of a fractured hip on older people can be devastating, increasing the risk of death within a year by as much as three times.
Winter sports also increase the risk of getting injured, with many sprains, strains and fractures resulting from high speed collisions, falls and sudden changes of direction on the ski slopes.
Prevention of winter injuries
It is not always possible to prevent accidents, however, there are some common sense steps you can take to try and avoid becoming one of the winter injury statistics. Often it is about simply planning ahead and being prepared.
Slips and falls often happen in icy conditions. Listening to the weather forecast can help you to be forewarned if ice and snow is forecast. It is a good idea to use salt or sand to defrost paths and driveways around your home. Wear study, non-slip boots or shoes and walk with care particularly if there is a likelihood of black ice. If you feel yourself falling, landing on your side, if possible, can reduce the risk of a head or spinal injury.
Car accidents are also more likely in icy conditions. Before driving, make sure that your windows are completely defrosted so that you have good visibility all round. Be careful not to drive too fast and allow extra time to come to a complete stop. Many UK drivers are unaccustomed to driving in snow so take particular care in snowy conditions. Even more common UK weather, such as rain, wind and fog, presents an injury risk so take extra care, whether you are walking, driving or cycling.
Injuries on the ski slope are often caused by people trying to do too much too soon or failing to stop when they are tired. It is important to build up gradually, ideally before you head off on holiday, to strengthen your muscles. If you feel tired, stop, as tired muscles provide less protection for joints, making them more prone to injury. It is important to do a thorough daily warm-up before you head out onto the slopes and to wear the correct clothing to keep yourself warm but well-ventilated. Avoid drinking alcohol while skiing as it can significantly increase your risk of getting injured.
Treating winter injuries
If you do sustain an injury, treatment will depend on how serious it is. Minor injuries like sprains and strains can normally be treated at home using the RICE method: rest, ice, compression and elevating the affected limb above the level of your heart.
However, if you suspect a more serious injury, it is important that you seek medical help as soon as possible, as continuing to use an injured limb can result in more serious damage.
Treatment will depend on the type and severity of your injury. There are many different types of fractures, ranging from open fractures where the skin has been pierced by the broken bones, through to incomplete fractures where the bone cracks rather than breaking completely.
Fractures will need to be immobilised while the bones heal using a brace or cast. If the bones have been pushed out of alignment you may need metal plates, screws or pins to hold them in place while they heal.
You may also sustain a sprain, strain or rupture of ligaments, tendons or muscles. Sprains – which are ligament injuries – are classified from grade one to three depending on their severity. Strains are injuries to muscles and/or tendons.
Treatment may also include rest, anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections, splinting or physiotherapy exercises to increase strength and flexibility.