Quick – what season is it?
The calendar says it’s winter, but your sidewalk and driveway say it’s slip-and-fall season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 36 million older adults (age 65+) fall each year.
Don’t be a statistic – follow these simple steps to minimize your risk of slip-and-fall injuries:
- Clear the snow
- Salt strategically
- Take on steps from the inside out
- Have the right footwear
- Give your feet a helping hand
- Stay strong
Let’s examine these steps one-by-one:
Clear the snow
This is a given: the main contributor to winter falls is ice. Ice forms from melting snow. If there’s no snow, there can’t be any ice.
The most important thing you can do to reduce your slip-and-fall risk is to get out ahead of the snow. That means shoveling or using a snow blower before you drive on your driveway and pack down snow in the tire tracks. That also means clearing your sidewalk before passersby may walk on it.
If shoveling is too difficult, don’t despair: there are more choices than ever for inexpensive, easy-to-use snowblowers. Electric models with rechargeable batteries are becoming more common.
However, sidewalks and driveways are just part of the snow problem. Melting snow from roofs can drip onto cold sidewalks, freezing on contact. Salting (see below) can provide some respite from this problem, but you may want to have the snow cleared from your roof a couple times throughout the season as well.
Downspouts are another source of ice. You can salt, but sometimes salting just leads to more freezing and ice buildup. Again, making sure your roof is as free from snow as possible is the best way of minimizing this hazard.
Sure, you can adopt a salting approach similar to the gopher-removal techniques employed by Bill Murray in Caddyshack, but it’s not good for the environment, it’s not good for your pets, and it may not be that effective.
Here are some tips for maximizing the effectiveness of your salting-and-sanding with a minimum of salt and sand:
- Spread salt/sand close to the ground, targeting the slipperiest areas – don’t use a spray-and pray approach.
- Many ice-melters turn ice to water, and the water has to go somewhere. If you’re salting a driveway or sidewalk that slants, understand where the water may go, and potentially freeze.
- Make sure your ice-melting product can work in super-cold temperatures. Perennially shady areas can often behave like they’re 10-20 degrees colder than the air temperature.
- Use less than you think you need. Often ice-melters will dissolve themselves into the water, and that water will then spread and melt more ice. These products often keep working for hours or days, so reapplication may not be necessary.
Take on steps from the inside out
Steps are one of the most dangerous areas for slip-and-fall injuries.
To safely sand/salt steps, start inside your house. Spread a thin layer on the top step, give it time to work, then move to the next step. Repeat this process until all steps are treated.
Steps are also one of the areas most susceptible to drips from eaves and overhangs, so realize that dripping water may carry away your ice-melter and leave you with a worse problem than the one you had treated. Always assume your steps are slippery until it’s proven they’re not, and be prepared to treat your steps multiple times.
Have the right footwear
When navigating slippery conditions, bedroom slippers aren’t going to cut it. Crocs won’t either, nor will dress shoes or worn tennis shoes.
If you’re venturing outside in snowy or icy conditions, choose shoes or boots with aggressive rubber treads. Having footwear that provides some level of ankle stability can help protect against sprains and strains.
It may be a hassle to lace up the boots just to walk out to the mailbox, but when you consider the alternative may be a sprained ankle or torn knee ligament, it’s more than a fair tradeoff.
Give your feet a helping hand
If you’re walking or running on sketchy winter surfaces, invest in some shoe treads, like Yaktrax or Hillsound. They’re generally affordable – about $40-$75 – and they give you stability in just about any winter weather conditions.
Think of treads as tire chains for your feet. You attach them to your shoes about the same way you’d attach tire chains to your tires, and they function in roughly the same manner.
Something to be aware of with these traction devices: the lighter you are, the longer cleats you need. Make sure you get a set that’s rated for your body weight.
Despite all your precautions, you still may slip on the ice this winter. That’s why it’s important to invest in the ultimate fall prevention: your own health and strength.
The difference between a slip and a dangerous fall can be your lower-body strength. Simple exercises like squats and lunges can help you form a strong base to counteract the loss of balance that can lead to falls.
In some respects, what you do inside can do more to prevent slip-and-fall injuries than what you do outside – so use your indoor time to get stronger!
If you need recommendations on simple exercises you can do to lower your risk of slip-and-fall injuries, contact us at Stevens Point Orthopedics. We’re committed to helping you stay on your feet – all winter long!