The holidays are over. The winter doldrums are upon us. Spring cannot come soon enough. But for now, we must contend with the beautiful and yet, treacherous gifts that Mother Nature bestows upon us – snow and ice.
Snow and ice…a one-two punch combination that provides the perfect recipe for orthopedic disaster, mainly broken bones. Two frequent and common types of injuries that can occur as a result of snow and ice are fractures of the wrist and ankle, and the dreaded hip fracture.
While ankle fractures can occur at virtually any age, hip fractures are more commonly seen in people over the age of 50, and primarily in senior citizens. The incidence of ankle and hip fractures dramatically increases as the winter weather worsens. The typical scenario involves a fall on slippery or icy pavement, however, fractures can be caused from falls indoors as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as little as four years ago, the number of hospitalizations for hip fractures from falling exceeded a quarter million. In 1991, hip fractures cost Medicare almost $3 billion dollars
There are also some sobering statistics about hip fractures – 40 percent of falls that require hospitalization involve the hip, and approximately half of the people who sustain a hip fracture never regain their pre-fall activity levels. Adult ankle fractures can typically take eight to 12 weeks to heal, and can often require surgery to restore bone fragments.
Here are a few things you can do to help decrease the risk of sustaining one of the above-mentioned fractures:
Beware of what you can’t see – We’ve all heard the term “black ice.” It’s something we’ve seen a lot of this season – the thin coating of ice that develops on pavement (streets and sidewalks) when temperatures hover right around the freezing mark. It can be particularly dangerous for driving and walking.
All too often, this black ice can be covered by a thin layer of frost or snow, making that slippery patch all but impossible to see. The typical weather pattern for black ice formation is a rainy daytime pattern and then a dip in temperature below freezing after the sun goes down. If snowfall to any significant degree follows, it becomes literally impossible to see the black ice beneath it.
For all you “Boomers” and “older” folks (and yes, I’m right there with you), this translates into being extra careful to evaluate where you are heading and make sure that you stay on cleaned and, preferably salted, walkways.
Be mindful where you step in areas where there is patchy snowfall, as in parking lots, especially after a wet snow or light rain. You never know what lurks below.
In general, while hip fractures can be thought of as the most serious of fracture injuries, broken ankles, shoulders, legs and arms are just as devastating and life-altering. Really, there’s no such thing as a “good” fracture.
Give winter the boot – When going outside, you may want to consider wearing winter boots, or at least shoes with slip-resistant soles. Shoes with hard smooth heels and leather soles are exceptionally slippery on ice. Shoes and slippery soles increase the risk of twisting ankles on icy surfaces, thus increasing the potential for fractures.
The more help, the Better – For those that require some kind of assistive devices when walking, such as a cane or walker, remember that four legs are definitely better than one when navigating the icy outdoors. Walkers are safer and more stable than a single-legged cane, so even if you use a cane around the house and in the malls, a walker can save you a lot of heartache getting in and out of a car and in parking lots.
There’s no substitute for using the “old noggin” – The take-home message is this, if nothing else, use common sense when deciding about venturing outside in cold, snowy and icy winter weather; wear the right clothing and footwear and look before you step so you won’t become another winter fracture statistic.
Chisholm’s expertise in nursing, orthopedics and surgery spans more than 30 years. For more information on orthopedic-related topics, visit www.bone-and-joint-pain.com. Submit questions or comments to Ken at