How Sure Are You About Your Surefootedness This Winter?

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By Matt Hall, PT, DPT, OCS.

How sure are you about your surefootedness this winter? As we approach the heart of winter in Kentucky, this is the opportune time to seriously ponder this question.  Your response may portend idyllic enjoyment of the outdoors, or could reveal your heightened risk for injury.  In attempting to answer this question it may first be helpful to consider a wide spectrum of influences.  Here are just a few:

Shoes– Due to the increased risk of slipping, it is advisable to utilize aids that provide added traction.  While spray-on resins can provide rubbery grip to the soles of any shoe, for those tackling more serious terrain or who require maximum traction, screw in metal cleats can be manually attached using a specialized tool.  A more likely option for most  might be crampons like YakTrax, or Sandys that can be easily secured to and removed from the soles most styles of shoes before stepping out into inclement weather.  Additionally, these devices spare the floor from damage.

Canes or walking sticks– Whether you routinely use one or not,  a cane or walking stick can provide added support and enhanced stability when walking on slick or uneven terrain.  However, before you venture forth into the elements one very important modification should be made.  The rubber tip should be replaced by one that has small spikes that does not slip when planted.  The tip may need to be switched again to rubber for indoor use or may be retractable.  Check with the vendor before purchasing.

Eyewear– This one can be easily “overlooked”, no pun intended, because the risk usually occurs when returning to the warmth of a shelter.  Often the sudden temperature change causes glasses to fog up for a few moments and this could lead to a trip or fall.  Another risk is the self- tinting feature that can likewise render the wearer’s vision momentarily impaired when coming from sunlight into an indoor lighting environment.  One solution is simply pausing upon entry until the glasses stabilize; another is to leave a spare pair near the entry way that can be swapped.

Clear walk ways– Sidewalks and porches should be cleared of snow as soon as possible.  Walking on freshly fallen sow only serve to compact it making it more difficult to remove latter, and hastening its transformation to ice.  However, as we Kentuckian’s are all too acquainted, snow is usually not the issue but rather it seems that ice is our nemesis.   One effective solution is to spread deicer upon walkways.  Keep a container near doorways for convenient use when needed.  Sand and cat litter can be substituted but they will not melt the ice and can be a bit messy.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a few additional suggestions to keep you safer this winter.

  1. Walk like a penguin, exit your automobile like a cat burglar, and if you find yourself falling, do so like a gymnast.
  2. Keep a wide stance and walk “flat footed”.  Imitating a penguin greatly increases your stability on slick surfaces.
  3. When exiting a car, do not jump out!  Think cat burglar.  Gingerly step out and down while holding onto the handle, seat and door until your footing is assured.
  4. And lastly while the physicality of a gymnast is well beyond the capabilities of most, their approach to tumbling does effectively illustrate my point.   Gymnasts use their hands to “soften” their landing.  Therefore, if you are carrying objects attempt to throw them out of the way don’t try to hold onto them.  It is paramount, in the event of a fall, to protect your head and you can only do this if your hands are free.  Furthermore, don’t attempt to twist away from or stiffen as one falls.  Instead, roll with the fall as this can reduce the potential for injury.

While there can never be a 100% guarantee that winter falls can be prevented, following some or all of the aforementioned suggestions can only serve to improve your overall safety.  Godspeed.

Image from: www.catalystsforhealth.com/watch-your-step-parenting

Matt Hall PT, DPT, OCS is a graduate of Transylvania University and the University of Kentucky. A board certified specialist (OCS), he is a member of both the Kentucky and the American Physical Therapy Associations. He has been a practicing physical therapist since 1995 and has experience in both inpatient and outpatient facilities. Matt’s areas of professional interest include general orthopedics, industrial/workplace preventative and rehab services, and foot orthotics to correct mechanical gait deviations. For more information about injury prevention and treatment, check  out  www.kort.com. 

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