The 15 Most Common Winter Injuries, According to Doctors
Watch out for the ice and snow, or you may wind up with one of the most common winter injuries.
It's nearly impossible to get through the winter without at least one painful fall. However, the injuries that result from slipping on ice shouldn't be your only worry during the snowy season. Some of the most common accidents also happen while creating festive treats in the kitchen or while decorating the Christmas tree. In fact, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2012, the most frequently reported holiday decorating incidents seen in emergency departments involved falls (34 percent), followed by lacerations (11 percent) and back strains (10 percent). “There are about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season,” CPSC chairman Robert Adler said in a statement. "Adding safety to your checklist can keep a holiday tradition from becoming a holiday tragedy." Want to know what exactly you should be on the lookout for? Here are some common winter injuries to try to avoid at all costs.
Falls from ladders
People will go to dangerous lengths and heights for the perfect Christmas decorations. "Whether you're climbing just a little bit higher on that unsteady ladder to hang up Christmas lights or leaning out over the tree to put up the star, the winter holidays often find us in [dangerous] positions," says ER doctor Darria Long Gillespie, MD.
"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."
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 common. On the plus side, 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 and keeping the burn moisturized and bandaged up.
Broken bones from slipping on ice or snow
Of course, one of the most common winter 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 Long Gillespie. She says you should "allow for extra transit—and walking—time when the conditions are cold and or icy" to avoid falling and breaking something.
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 complement your holiday wardrobe," 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.
Muscle strains from shoveling
Strains occur when you stretch or pull a muscle or tendon. And unfortunately, with all the shoveling that goes down on those snowy winter days, it's not uncommon for them to occur during the season.
"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," Long Gillespie says. One 2010 study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that muscle strains and tears are some of the most common snow shoveling injuries, so be careful when clearing the driveway!
Ruptured discs from heavy lifting
Ruptured discs are no fun. Sometimes they happen with age, but in the winter, they commonly occur after falls or even thanks to too much physical activity like lifting heavy objects or shoveling. If you're experiencing symptoms, head to the doctor for an examination to figure out the best treatment plan.
A few hours after your skin is exposed to extremely cold winter temperatures, you may find yourself dealing with itchy sores, bumps, and blisters, most likely on the unprotected parts of your body like your toes, fingers, ears, 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 bundling up any time you're outside to prevent them, especially since they can last up to three weeks.
When your skin is exposed to extremely cold temperatures, chilblains aren't the only issue you'll face. You might also experience frostbite, which typically affects the 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 also have blistering or scabs.
Gashes from opening gifts
Opening presents can be dangerous, especially when they're wrapped in that impossible-to-open plastic. "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," Long Gillespie says. "The plastic is so hard and edges are sharp, making it easy to cut yourself."
Sprained ankles from winter falls
"Between icy conditions and rushing around to get out of the cold, we're all at a higher risk of falls during the holidays and winter season, which can result in injuries," Long Gillespie says. One of the most common injuries that results from these falls is a sprained ankle, which occurs when you twist, pull, or tear a muscle or tendon, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. If you experience a sprain, make sure to use crutches to get around while you heal.
Torn ACLs from winter sports
Knee injuries are incredibly painful—especially if you tear your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of the joint's main ligaments. The injury typically occurs in sports-related incidents, and that's why it's common in the winter 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. Unfortunately, it can take many months to completely heal, so be patient if you're diagnosed with a torn ACL.
Whiplash from car accidents
Winter means increased car accidents due to the icy and slippery roads: According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 17 percent of all vehicle crashes happen due to winter weather conditions. And unfortunately, these crashes can result in many different types of injuries. One of the most common, however, 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. While recovery only takes months, sometimes the pain from the injury lasts years.
There's an important reason why you need to make sure your body temperature doesn't get too low in the winter: to prevent hypothermia, which can be life-threatening. "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, MD, told the Cleveland Clinic.
To ensure you're staying safe, bundle up in dry, warm, and loose layers. Also, make sure your home is properly heated since hypothermia 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," Long Gillespie says. To be safe, make sure you're in an area free of any obstacles, and if you're partaking in some serious winter sports, always wear a helmet.
Another injury that's common in the winter due to all the winter sports and car accidents is dislocations. According to the Cleveland Clinic, dislocations can happen to any joint in the body, and in serious situations, they require months of rehabilitation.