5 tips to stay safe this winter

  • Wear proper outerwear when shoveling and push the snow to let the shovel do the work for you to avoid straining your back.

    Wear proper outerwear when shoveling and push the snow to let the shovel do the work for you to avoid straining your back. File photo

  • Dr. Diego Villacis

    Dr. Diego Villacis

By Dr. Diego Villacis
Posted1/7/2017 8:00 AM

Like clockwork, Chicago winters usher in a deep freeze, usually with ice and snow.

While that's not surprising, I am taken aback by how many ankle and wrist fractures I treat from people slipping and sliding. It's only a ground-level fall, but if you are not careful you can really hurt yourself, especially on outdoor steps.


For those anxious to hit the slopes, here's some sobering news: More than 246,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctors' offices, and emergency rooms for injuries related to winter sports in 2015, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

• 88,000 injuries from snow skiing

• 61,000 injuries from snowboarding

• 50,000 injuries from ice skating

• 47,000 injuries from sledding, tobogganing, and snow tubing

With more snow in the forecast, even the hardiest Midwesterners could use some tips (or reminders) about staying injury-free this winter, whether you're skiing, shoveling or simply dashing out to get the mail.

Here's how to stay safe:

1. Avoid the problem by preventing it the night before. Consider throwing salt on your driveway if the forecast predicts snow or ice.

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2. It's important to have the right clothing and footwear. It's tempting to walk out in slippers to pick up the newspaper or mail, but take a moment to throw on boots with traction. If shoveling, remember that cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more vulnerable to injury so make sure you wear proper outerwear, which includes layers, a warm hat and gloves. If you are comfortable from the cold, you are less likely to fall.

3. Take the time to stretch your arms, back, and legs before any high-level activity. For shoveling, technique is crucial. Too often I see people shovel and lift snow off the driveway like they are digging a hole. There's no need to fight gravity. Push the snow and let the shovel do the work to avoid straining your back.

4. If you participate in outdoor winter sports, make sure you wear the right equipment. I am an avid snow skier. By pure luck, I avoided serious injury when I was younger. Now that I'm older, I know my limits when selecting which runs to go down. I always wear a helmet when I ski -- and one that is specifically for the sport. A bike helmet is not made for snow skiing.

5. Avoid participating in any outdoor winter sport or chore if you're exhausted or tired. It's tempting to try to get some shoveling done after work, but it's best to wait until you're well rested so not to risk injury.

• Dr. Diego Villacis is an orthopedic surgeon with the Northshore Orthopaedic Institute in Evanston.

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