The 17 Most Common Injuries During the Winter Months
Once the snow falls, you're more likely to, too.
Once the temperature drops and the ground becomes a sheet of slippery ice, it’s nearly impossible to get through the winter without at least one painful fall. But the injuries that result from slips shouldn’t be your only worries this season. Some of the most common accidents also happen while creating holiday treats in the kitchen or decorating the Christmas tree. Here are 17 to watch out for.
Broken Bones From Slippery Snow
Of course, one of the most common wintertime injuries is broken bones. And it happens to the best of us. “I myself broke my ankle one year when I was wearing high heels on the ice and slipped and fell. Not my wisest fashion moment,” says Harvard and Yale-trained ER doctor Darria Long Gillespie, MD. “Allow for extra transit—and walking—time when the conditions are cold and or icy.”
A few hours after your skin is exposed to extremely cold winter temps, you may find yourself dealing with itchy sores, bumps, and blisters, most commonly on the unprotected parts of your body like your toes, fingers, eats, and nose. Those are chilblains. Luckily, according to the National Health Service (NHS), they typically heal on their own and there’s no trip to the doctor required. That said, it’s certainly worth dressing warm anytime you’re outside to prevent them, especially since they can last up to three weeks.
Painful Bruises From Icy Conditions
Broken bones aren’t the only consequence of icy conditions. “Winter falls can also result in painful bruises, which don’t exactly compliment your holiday wardrobe,” Dr. Long Gillespie says. It might seem like a minor injury, but they can be incredibly painful, not to mention leave an unsightly mark for weeks.
Falls Off Ladders
People will go to dangerous lengths and heights for the perfect Christmas decorations. “When you’re climbing just a little bit higher on that unsteady ladder to hang up the Christmas lights, or leaning out over the tree to put up the star, the winter holidays often find us in precious positions,” Dr. Long Gillespie says. “Remember that when you’re hanging Christmas lights or any other decoration, always have someone standing at the base of the ladder to spot and hold it steady. Also, be sure that all feet of the ladder are on level ground, and be careful decorating in the dark, when it’s even easier to miss a rung or other hazard.”
Gashes From Opening Gifts
Sometimes opening presents can be dangerous, especially when it comes to that hard-to-open plastic packaging on gifts. “Every year, we see patients who have large cuts on their hands—and sometimes even nerve damage—from the plastic ‘clamshell’ packaging that’s common to so many products. The plastic is so hard and edges are sharp, making it easy to cut yourself,” Dr. Long Gillespie says. The key to preventing any injuries is using a good pair of scissors to cut as much as necessary. “Then you’re not trying to tear open the plastic by hand, which is a common cause of injuries.”
During the winter months, baking is a must. Santa needs his milk and cookies, after all! Just be sure you’re careful when taking all those sweets in and out of the oven because kitchen burns are definitely a risk. Luckily, they’re usually minor: They hurt and blister, but can heal on their own. If you do have one, the Mayo Clinic recommends holding it under cool water right after it happens, never popping any blisters once they form, and keeping the burn moisturized and bandaged up.
Another common kitchen injury during the winter months is knife cuts from cooking, which tends to happen more often when people are frantically trying to prepare holiday dinners for a bunch of hungry, eager guests. While minor cuts can heal on their own, serious wounds that are deep and bleeding profusely need medical attention and might even require stitches, says the Cleveland Clinic.
When your skin is exposed to extremely cold temperatures, chilblains aren’t the only issue you’ll face. You might also experience a case of frostbite, which typically affects your fingers, toes, face, and ears. According to the Cleveland Clinic, frostbite results in numbness, redness, and a “pins and needles” feeling. If the case is severe, you could have also blisters or scabs. All the more reason to make sure you’re always dressed for cold weather.
Sprained Ankles From Winter Falls
“Between icy conditions and rushing around to get out of the cold, we’re all at a little higher risk of falls during the holidays and winter season that can result in injuries,” Dr. Long Gillespie says. And one of the most common? Sprained ankles, which occur when you twist, pull, or tear a muscle or tendon, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. If you experience a sprain, expect pain, swelling, bruising, and probably a pair of crutches to help you get around while you heal.
Muscle Strains From Shoveling
Unlike sprains, strains occur when you stretch or pull a muscle or tendon. Unfortunately, with all the shoveling that goes down on those snowy winter days, it’s not uncommon for them to occur. “Shoveling can be a pretty significant physical activity, and injuries come in two forms: Those that happen immediately—like pulling a muscle—or the next day when you wake up and can’t move because you simply overstrained your muscles,” Dr. Long Gillespie says. “You wouldn’t suddenly go start a weight training regimen of 50 to 100 pounds without training, but every year people do the equivalent when they set out to shovel an entire driveway.” If you don’t think your body can handle it, don’t be afraid to hire someone to help you out.
Ruptured Discs From Heavy Lifting
Let’s get one thing straight: Ruptured discs are no fun. Sometimes they happen with age, but in the winter, they commonly occur from a fall or too much physical activity, like lifting heavy objects or shoveling. The injury can be incredibly painful and can sometimes cause numbness from irritating your nerves, says the Mayo Clinic. If you’re experiencing symptoms, head to the doctor for an examination to figure out the best treatment plan.
Torn ACLs From Winter Sports
Knee injuries are incredibly painful—especially if you tear your ACL, one of its main ligaments. The injury typically occurs in sports-related incidents, and that’s why it’s common with all the skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hockey, and other outdoor winter activities people do. According to the Cleveland Clinic, both surgery and physical therapy are typically necessary when a torn ACL occurs in order to ensure the ligament performs normally again, and it can take many months to completely heal.
Whiplash From Car Accidents
Winter means increased car accidents due to the icy and slippery roads, which can unfortunately result in many different types of injuries. One of the most common is whiplash, which occurs when your head forcefully whips back and forth, causing a neck injury. According to Harvard Medical School, more than a million Americans experience the scary condition every year, and while recovery itself takes months, sometimes that pain can last years.
There’s an important reason to make sure your body temperature doesn’t get too low in the winter: hypothermia, which can be life-threatening and requires emergency medical attention. “Hypothermia can affect the brain and nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and the liver. If it’s not treated quickly, it can lead to death,” Thomas Waters, M.D., told the Cleveland Clinic. To ensure you’re staying safe, bundle up in dry, warm, and loose layers, and make sure your home is properly heated since it can happen indoors, too.
Concussions From Sledding
Sledding, snowboarding, and other winter activities are all fun and games—until someone falls and hits their head. “Every year we see children and adults who have concussions or other injuries from running into trees or other objects,” Dr. Long Gillespie says. To be safe, make sure you’re in an area free of any obstacles, and if you’re doing some serious winter sports, always wear a helmet.
Another injury that’s common in the winter—also due to all the winter sports and car accidents—is dislocations. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it can happen to any joint in the body—including your fingers, shoulders, and knees—and might require a medical professional putting it back in place. It could take months of rehabilitation to heal and restrengthen the area.
Head Cuts From Icicles
Icicles can cause some pretty intense injuries during the winter. In fact, if one falls on your head, a trip to the ER might be in order. “The biggest concern when you get hit by an icicle, of course, is you could get cut and start to bleed. Or in the case of being hit on the head, you could end up with a concussion,” Seth Podolsky, M.D., told the Cleveland Clinic. And for ailments to watch out for all year round, check out The 30 Most Common Injuries for Adults Over 50.
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