I think we were all relieved when the recent ice storm was not as severe as predicted. I still found myself slipping a bit up my driveway which got me thinking about some of my patients and how one fall can be crippling. I think reviewing safety precautions for getting around on the snow and ice can be important.
Safety begins before you leave the house, especially when it comes to your shoes. Avoid wearing boots or shoes with smooth soles or heels. Instead, opt for more stable shoes or boots that provide traction on snow and ice. The best choice is shoes or boots made with non-slip rubber or neoprene grooved soles.
Wearing sunglasses can also help clear your field of vision to help you avoid falls. Glare from the snow and ice can impede your vision or cause you to squint or look away instead of concentrating on the surroundings in front of you.
When you are navigating ice, it's also important to keep your hands and arms free to balance yourself. Do not try to grab all of your groceries in one trip or carry all of your belongings in both hands.
There are also a few specific tactics you can use to keep your balance.
• If you are walking through snow or ice, bending over slightly and walking flat-footed will put your center of gravity over your feet.
• Take short steps or shuffle your feet to help break the momentum.
• Extending your arms out to your sides can help maintain balance.
• Think Penguin, walking like a Penguin will help you stay steady and upright!
• Walk along the grassy edge of ice or snow covered sidewalks or dirt areas. This will provide better traction.
• Don't forget to take advantage of any handrails along icy steps.
What if you do slip and fall? Make a quick assessment to be sure you haven't injured yourself. If you think you've broken a bone or hit your head, try to get help before attempting to get up. Make sure that you seek medical attention immediately if you feel you have an injury.
If you find yourself falling, you can try to adjust your body to avoid a more painful impact. If you fall backwards, try to tuck your head forward, chin to chest. Try to extend your arms away from your body. This maneuver will help prevent your head, wrists and elbows from hitting the ground. If you fall to the side, try to let your forearm make contact with the ground first, not your hand. Lift your head to the opposite shoulder and continue to roll. If you fall forward, try to roll to one side, and follow the same procedure as if you were falling to the side.
We cannot avoid all falls; if you do find yourself suddenly lying on the ground after a slip, and you are not injured, I recommend taking your time to turn over onto your hands and knees. Place one of your feet between your hands, then bring the other up between them. Push yourself up from there while trying to keep your feet shoulder width apart. If you can get to a grassy area, off of pavement, this may be a safe place to attempt to stand.
In colder temperatures, it is safe to assume that all dark, wet areas on pavements are slippery and icy; it is best to avoid these areas if possible.
The bottom line when walking in snowy and icy conditions is be prepared, be aware, be careful and take your time.
-- Chris Brown is the Therapy/Rehab Service Line Manager at St. Mary's Medical Center and can be reached at 816- 655-5700.