How To Prevent Orthopedic Injuries this Winter

Published November 18, 2022

With the arrival of autumn and winter comes a whole new set of challenges for active and not-so-active people. The fall season ushers in falling leaves, plummeting temperatures, slippery surfaces, and limited daylight hours. Then, during the winter months, cold fronts can bring ice, sleet, and snow to Northern Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. If you work outdoors or simply enjoy participating in activities outside, you know the risk of a slip and fall is high when our region gets ice and snow.

prevent orthopedic injuries this winter

Every year, millions of people are sidelined by preventable sprains, strains, tears, and broken bones. According to the National Safety Council, over 3.2 million people suffered sports and recreation injuries in 2021. To protect yourself from these common orthopedic injuries, it’s essential to understand why they occur and what you can do to prevent them from happening to you during the cold winter months.

Be safe while enjoying the holiday season with family and friends.

Thinking about tossing the football with your family or friends after a holiday meal? If so, be sure to thoroughly stretch first! Many orthopedic injuries happen because people jump right into a recreational activity that they don't do regularly. Sprains and strains are particularly common for older adults. Even more serious injuries like rotator cuff or ACL tears can happen just by twisting the wrong way or throwing a ball without warming up first.

Take extra care when sidewalks, walkways, and playing surfaces are covered with ice or snow.

In 2019, more than 6.8 million people were treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. Ice and snow make surfaces slippery. However, there are a few common-sense tips to help reduce slips and falls while at home or work, or while participating in recreational activities.

  • Wear appropriate footwear with good traction.

  • Keep your feet warm and dry. Wear good quality socks.

  • Use handrails when walking up or down steps, stairs, or ramps.

  • Slow down! Don't run on wet or icy surfaces.

  • Look where you're going. Don't walk while looking down at your phone.

  • Stretch regularly, especially after sitting down for periods of time.

  • Exercise regularly. Strong muscles are necessary for stability.

  • Wear a helmet while skiing or playing ice hockey.

What are the most common orthopedic injuries?

There are a wide variety of orthopedic injuries that you can suffer while participating in sports or active hobbies. Some of the most common include sprains, strains, tendonitis, ankle fractures, knee ligament tears, shoulder dislocations, and rotator cuff tears. Sprains and strains are the most common types of injuries. They occur when your muscles or ligaments are overstretched or over-stretched, leading to, in some cases, a partial or even full tear. Sprains and strains often occur when playing sports or when participating in active hobbies in inclement weather conditions. Tendonitis is the irritation of one of the tendons in your body. The most common tendonitis injuries occur in the knees, shoulders, and elbows. If the tendonitis is ignored, it can lead to a partial or even a full tear of the tendon. A dislocation occurs when a bone out of its joint is misaligned or out of place. In the case of shoulders, the humerus bone comes out of joint. Dislocations most commonly occur in the knees, shoulders, and ankles.

Why are sprains and strains so common during the fall and winter?

During the fall and winter, the change in weather and temperatures can lead to more slip and fall accidents. Due to the change in the ground surface (particularly when there is precipitation), you’re more likely to slip and fall. When you fall, you put significant force through your extremities and joints, which can cause sprains and strains. Additionally, cold weather can make you more susceptible to injuries as your muscles and joints are less likely to move as freely. This increased risk is particularly common for athletes who play outdoor sports in extreme cold, wind, and precipitation.

Ankle Sprains and Foot Fractures

Ankle sprains occur when the foot is turned in an unnatural direction. When the foot is planted on a slippery surface, the ankle is at a higher risk of being sprained. It’s important to see a doctor if you experience a significant amount of pain or swelling after you’ve sprained your ankle. Foot fractures can occur when walking on a slippery surface. The force of your foot hitting the ground can break your foot. Foot fractures can be extremely painful. If you experience significant pain in your foot, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Knee-Based Injuries: ACL, MCL and Meniscus Tears

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occur when the knee twists in an unnatural direction, stretching the ACL and leading to a tear. ACL tears are common among athletes participating in winter sports such as skiing and ice skating. Slips and falls can also result in knee injuries. ACL tears can be treated with surgery and physical therapy.

Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries and meniscus tears are also knee-based injuries that can occur when participating in sports or active hobbies requiring you to be outdoors during fall and winter. MCL tears occur when the knee twists with excessive force. MCL tears can be treated with surgery or physical therapy. Meniscus tears occur when the knee is pushed beyond its normal range of motion. It’s important to avoid meniscus tears because they can lead to degeneration and arthritis later in life.

Shoulder Dislocations and Rotator Cuff Tears

Shoulder dislocations occur when the humerus bone out of its joint and is misaligned. Shoulder dislocations can occur in sports involving throwing a ball or by direct impact to the shoulder. A rotator cuff tear is one of the most common orthopedic injuries. It occurs when the tendons that help stabilize the shoulder become overstretched. Rotator cuff tears are common among athletes who participate in sports requiring repetitive motion. Shoulder dislocation and rotator cuff tears can occur during a slip and fall.

What to do if you have an orthopedic injury.

We all aim to stay safe, particularly during the fall and winter holiday season. But if you sustain an injury, you should first follow the P.O.L.I.C.E. method (protect, optimal loading, ice, compression, and elevation). Then, make an appointment with a trusted orthopedic specialist at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics. Our doctors and physical therapists are here to help!