Preventing Falls in Winter Weather

December 31, 2019

Snow and ice are a normal part of winter weather in the Midwest. The unpredictable nature of winter precipitation can make walking, and at times standing, difficult at best and dangerous at worst. There are, however, some things you can do to minimize the risk of falling while getting out and about in the winter.

First, when going out, assume that all wet, dark areas on pavement are slippery and/or icy. Try to walk on designated walkways or, if necessary, on the grassy edge of a surface to increase traction. Use special care when entering or exiting vehicles, keeping your feet about shoulder width apart and flat on the surface when entering or exiting a vehicle.  Avoid pivoting on one foot when getting in or out of the car to maximize your stability.

When walking on ice or snow, your footwear and your walking technique can go a long way in protecting you from slips and falls. Avoid boots or shoes with smooth soles and heels. Wear boots or shoes that provide traction on snow and ice, preferably with non-slip rubber or neoprene grooved soles. When you are walking, keep your center of gravity directly over your feet as much as possible. Look ahead, bend slightly and walk flat-footed, using short steps to increase your stability. Pointing your feet out slightly as you walk increases your base of support and also improves stability. Finally, keep your hands out of your pockets. Extending your arms out to your sides can help you maintain your balance.

Despite the utmost care, you may still experience a fall when walking on snow or ice. If that happens, try to stay relaxed as your body is better able to absorb force when it is not tensed. Try to avoid landing on your knees, wrists or back and do not try to catch yourself on your outstretched arms. Try to land on a more fleshy part of the body, like your side. Remember, “tuck and roll” to absorb shock. After the fall, do not try to get up right away. Take a moment to calm yourself and check for injury. If you are injured, do not attempt to get up on your own. Ask someone for help instead.

If you suffered a strain, sprain or possible broken bone, and you cannot get in to see your primary physician right away, an urgent care can help. If you would like to improve your balance to prevent falls, physical therapy can help.