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For those of us who live in cooler climates, winter can mean a chilly season of sleet, snow, freezing rain— and, of course, ice. 

And that means a significant uptick in the number of people who are injured from a slip or a fall on ice each year.

So whether you’re walking to your car in the grocery store parking lot or enjoying a long hike, you’ve got to be extra careful if you want to avoid a fall that can land you in physical therapy sessions for weeks or worse, the hospital.

The Slippery Numbers

According to the CDC, one out of five falls causes serious injury and over 800,000 patients are hospitalized every year for injuries caused by a fall. 

According to one analysis, 25% of ice and snow-related falls happen in parking lots, and 20% of those injuries result in lost work time. So ice-related slip-and-falls are not just painful— they can be expensive. 

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 20,460 ice-related slip-and-fall injuries in 2017. The average number of recovery days needed away from work differs between states. 

In some states (like New Jersey and Pennsylvania), the amount of time needed to return to work is significantly higher than in others, with a median of 14 days away to recover from falls related to ice, sleet, or snow.

A note about black ice: Black ice is a layer of thin, highly transparent ice that develops when temperatures rise above freezing, melting any snow on the ground or pavement. Once temperatures dip below freezing again, the moisture turns into a very thin, transparent layer of ice, making it hard to spot.

Common Ice-related Slip-and-Fall Injuries 

Injuries range from mild to serious depending on how you fall and which parts of your body take the lion’s share of the blow. 

Common injuries doctors see as a result of a patients’ slip-and-fall accidents include:

  • Cuts and bruises
  • Sprained ankles or wrists
  • Broken bones
  • Knee damage
  • Shoulder dislocations

Perhaps two of the most alarming potential outcomes of slipping and falling on ice are traumatic brain injury (TBI) and spine and nerve damage. 

But the most frequently reported injuries are to the wrists and forearms since we tend to instinctively put our hands out when we fall.

How To Avoid Slipping On Ice

A combination of risk factors usually contribute to a slip-and-fall accident, but you can reduce the risk with the following:

Wear The Right Shoes

When it comes to footwear, boots or shoes with good traction are key. Flat-soled shoes are a good choice, preferably made from rubber and neoprene composite (versus plastic or leather).

Fall the ‘Right’ Way

We have a natural inclination to put out our arms to protect our heads when falling, but as mentioned above, this can cause damage to wrists and forearms. If you can, turn so that your back and buttocks hit the ground first. 

Salt, Salt, & More Salt

Sprinkling salt over icy areas will go a long way to preventing injury. A solution of water and salt has a lower freezing point than just plain water so it melts the ice. 

Beware of Balance Issues

Carrying heavy bags while walking on ice can throw off your balance, increasing your risk of falling. You can try things like Tai Chi or strength training (with a focus on glutes, abs, hips, and legs) to improve balance and mitigate the likelihood of a fall.

Shuffle Your Way to Safety

Shuffling isn’t just for card games. It’s an excellent way to avoid ice-related injuries. Rather than walking or striding normally, try taking small steps with your feet slightly apart and bent at the knee to create more stability and balance. 

When to Seek Medical Help

Most people will experience differing levels of pain at the time of injury, but if the pain continues for more than 24 hours (even with rest, elevation, and ice), it’s a good idea to consult with your physician. 

Other symptoms that can signal a more serious injury are:

  • Headaches
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Obvious swelling
  • Loss of balance and/or dizziness
  • Back pain

If you’ve suffered an injury as a result of slipping and falling on ice, and you need physical therapy to help you recover, the therapists at South Orange Rehabilitation and Wellness are here to help. We’d love to talk with you about your physical therapy options today.