With the first indications of winter arriving in Northeast and Central Wisconsin, many people will be excited about the winter activities that follow (except maybe snow shoveling). To help keep the season safe and fun, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
“When the snow sticks to the ground, people may be eager to get back to favorite activities like skiing, snowboarding or skating,” said. Dr. Patrick Terry, Family Medicine Physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh. “Make sure you’re in appropriate physical condition for your activity, warm up beforehand, and use properly fitting gear and safety equipment.”
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says nearly 200,000 people were treated in 2018 for winter sports-related injuries, including fractures, sprains and dislocations. Cold muscles and tendons are more vulnerable to injury, and many injuries occur when people are fatigued.
“Many of these injuries occur at the end of the day when people are just getting in one last run, for example,” Dr. Terry said. “It’s important to stay alert and stop for breaks when you feel yourself getting tired – and certainly don’t continue your activity if you’re in pain.”
Kids especially may be eager to hit the nearest sledding hill as soon as the snow sticks to the ground. The National Safety Council says more than 20,000 children are treated each year for sledding injuries, often because of falls from the sled or because the sled hits a stationery object. Skull fractures are unfortunately a common injury.
“Always supervise children who are sledding, especially those under age 10,” Dr. Terry said. “Wearing a helmet is a best practice, and no one should ride the sled headfirst – the feet should always be pointing downhill.”
Sleds should be in good condition, without cracks or sharp edges, and using a sled with brakes and steering is the best plan. Sled hills should be spacious and free from obstacles, including having a wide space at the bottom for safe stops.
“Never sled near or on frozen lakes or ponds – you may not know how thick the ice is,” he said. “There can also be open spots of water that pose a hazard to your child.”
Walking In Winter
As with any outdoor activity in winter, people should dress properly for the cold when walking in winter.
“It’s great to stay active even in the winter months,” Dr. Terry said. “Just be prepared for winter temperatures by wearing several layers of lightweight clothing, with an outer layer that is water resistant and blocks the wind.”
Footwear with rubber or neoprene soles provide the best traction on potentially slippery surfaces. Additionally, the footwear you choose should provide good ankle support as well as keep your feet warm and dry.
When you navigate icy areas, keep your center of gravity over your feet and take smaller, shuffling steps, which can help your stability. If you’re walking across roadways, remember that vehicles will take longer to stop in poor conditions.
“Be aware of your surroundings, both in terms of vehicle traffic and the conditions of the roadway or sidewalk,” Dr. Terry said. “Ice is often hidden under snow and can create the potential for dangerous slips and falls.”
People also should protect themselves from frostbite during any winter activity by wearing hats and/or earmuffs, gloves, and taking a break from the cold whenever they’re outdoors for an extended period of time.
“Older adults, infants and those with medical conditions such as diabetes are at greater risk of frostbite as their bodies may have a harder time producing heat or responding properly to the cold,” Dr. Terry noted.
Signs of superficial frostbite can include:
- At first, cold skin and a prickling feeling
- Hard or waxy-looking skin
- Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
- Blistering after rewarming, in severe cases
- Skin that looks red, white, bluish-white, grayish-yellow, purplish, brown or ashen, depending on the severity of the condition and usual skin color
“In more progressive cases of frostbite, you might experience a feeling of warming,” Dr. Terry said. “It’s important to be aware of how the skin is feeling and ensure extremities are properly protected against the cold.”
Snow Shoveling and Snowblowing
Each year, people suffer heart attacks while snow shoveling and snowblowing. High levels of exertion coupled with cold temperatures and a sedentary or inactive lifestyle can put people at risk.
“Cold temperatures can increase your heart rate and your blood pressure,” Dr. Terry said. “Even in healthy people, this creates a greater risk of heart attack.”
People who are not normally very active especially should take precautions when shoveling, including stretching and warming up before shoveling, using a smaller shovel or shoveling smaller loads, and pushing snow rather than lifting it. Take frequent breaks – no one should work to the point of exhaustion.
Snowblowing may seem safer, but the equipment is heavy and pushing it can cause injury or overexertion as well.
“Certainly, do not shovel or snowblow without your provider’s approval if you have had any history of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Terry said. “It’s far better to hire someone to clear your driveway than to end up in the emergency room, or worse.”
If you have any questions about your proper level of winter activity, contact your primary care provider.
Dr. Terry wants to encourage people to make the most of winter, while staying safe.
“The winters can be long in Wisconsin,” said Dr. Terry. “That doesn’t mean we must hibernate indoors for months. There are wonderful activities to take part in – skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or just enjoying a walk in a park or around your neighborhood. All of these are great exercises that help our bodies adapt to cold weather. If we follow safety precautions, we can enjoy the beauty that winter provides.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.