Winter is one of the most common times of year for wrist, ankle, and joint injuries. The cold weather can worsen arthritis, speed up bone loss, and enhance joint stiffness. Add to this the risk of slipping on ice or falling in snow and you’ve got serious bone and ligament injuries on your hands. Plus, winter sports like skiing and snowboarding put a lot of stress on joints, and they come with a high risk of injury.
In fact, broken wrists and ankles are the most common orthopedic injury, especially during cold winter months. That’s because the bones are so small, but they get a lot of pressure and work—especially with falls and slips.
Don’t waste away your winter in pain. Take these few simple steps to prevent wrist, ankle, and joint injuries this winter.
- Choose the right boots.
Slips on ice, especially black ice, are one of the most common causes of wrist and ankle injuries. You could twist or sprain your ankle, and you can break your wrist if you put pressure on it during the fall.
Prevent slipping by choosing the right winter boots. Your boots should be slip-resistant with good traction, typically made with plastic soles that can grab on to the ground.
Plus, your winter boots will be the basis of your structural support for the season. How you walk in your shoes determines your posture, which impacts how your joints and bones work. Bad posture means a higher risk of injury and pain. And bad posture can stem from shoes without proper support.
- Be aware when shoveling snow.
Shoveling snow is one of the most prevalent causes of pulled muscles and strains, especially in the back and wrists. If you aren’t shoveling correctly, you could be creating a repetitive movement that causes micro-tears in the ligament or muscle. This ongoing movement can create injury so you’re completely out of commission the day after shoveling.
So make sure you focus on your shoveling technique:
- Keep your knees bent when shoveling. This places the stress on your leg muscles, not your back.
- Place one hand close to the blade and one further up the handle to prevent upper back and neck pain.
- Turn your entire body when throwing snow. Don’t twist side to side.
- When bending, bend from the thighs, not the back.
- Push the snow aside, rather than lifting it up. Carry, don’t toss.
- Use a lightweight shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length to make it more comfortable to lift.
You’ll also want to stretch and warm up your muscles before shoveling. Think of it like a winter workout: you want to stretch before and after to lessen the chance of a strain.
Or you can invest in a snow blower or hire a professional to do the work for you.
- Use sand or salt.
Throwing sand or salt on slick or icy areas is one of the simplest ways to prevent falling. This adds traction that your boots can grab on to. We recommend spreading salt on your driveway, walkways, and outdoor steps.
This isn’t house salt. You’ll want to use high-grade salt specifically designed to remove ice. Learn more about how to melt ice and snow with salt here.
Pro-tip: Keep a bag of kitty litter in your car. If your car gets stuck in ice or snow, you can throw kitty litter in front of the tires to help your car grab on to the ground.
- Know how to fall.
Sometimes slips and trips are inevitable. Accidents happen. But you can still take control of the fall as it’s happening.
If you feel yourself starting to fall, don’t fight it. It’s this “panic response” that actually causes the most damage. Instead, try to position yourself to land out of the fall on your buttocks, which is usually the fattiest area of the body. Try to avoid putting pressure on your wrists if falling backwards.
If falling forwards, you’ll want to put your arms out to protect your face and head. To avoid serious wrist injury, though, don’t lock your elbows in place. This allows them to bend with the fall, so you’ll have a smoother landing with less pressure on your joints.
The same is true if you’re a winter athlete. Work with a coach to go over specifics on how to fall properly if you’re going down on the slopes. A few falling and rolling techniques can save your joints and bones from injury.
For winter athletes or even just someone walking to the car, you want to stretch before going out into the cold. If you have an accident, you’re more likely to hurt “cold” muscles than “warm” ones.
So warm up your muscles and joints with a few easy stretches. This keeps your body flexible and pliable, which minimizes the risk of injury in case of an accident. Stretching can also help improve your posture and structure, so you’ll have fewer aches and pains in general.
- Be aware.
You want to understand the winter conditions before you walk or drive anywhere. Driving in bad weather increases your risk of a collision, which in turn increases your risk of injury.
Here are some notes to keep you aware of hazards when walking:
- Black ice (“invisible ice”) is more likely to form in the morning after a nighttime frost and before the sun has set in. Be on high alert in the morning time.
- Walk on areas that have been treated with sand or salt.
- Walking in snow is usually a better option than walking on ice.
- Pregnant women should be especially cautious walking in cold weather due to the increased risk of injury.
Here are potential hazards when driving in winter weather:
- Keep your tires inflated properly. This helps gain traction on the road.
- Keep at least two cars’ lengths between you and the car in front of you, since braking may take longer.
- Don’t accelerate or decelerate quickly, which can cause your tires to spin uncontrollably.
- Avoid taking the “back roads” which may not have been plowed or driven on as frequently.
- Try not to drive at night, where visibility is reduced.
- Take a defensive driving course to learn how to handle winter weather roads.
- Drive with someone else or let someone know where you are going and when you expect to arrive. Keep your phone charged and have extra chargers or batteries. You never want to get stranded out in the frigid weather if your car breaks down.
- Have a winter emergency kit that includes bandages, heating packs, and other injury prevention methods.
- Know how to take care of an injury.
The best way to care for an injury is with RICE: rest, ice, compress, and elevation. For a sprain or strain, put it on pillows elevated above your heart level. Ice it for 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. Wrap it tightly with a bandage or even a blanket to help minimize swelling.
If you’ve had a fall and any part of your body is hurting, you should visit a doctor or go to the ER. You should especially take action if the pain hurts for more than two hours, is radiating or numb, or the area has significant swelling.
Always take pain seriously. It’s your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.
Are you and your joints prepared for the winter season? Stock up with our PainZone to help with pain this winter!