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Staying Safe in the Snow and Cold

Last updated: December 14, 2022

Winter sports are a great way to get through the long winter months in Wisconsin. Taking some care to protect yourself can help you stay safe while enjoying time in the snow this year.

Dr. Nickolas Linkous, Orthopedic Surgeon, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care

When the weather starts to get that familiar chill and the snow starts to fly, we know how to make the best of the season: We head outside for some winter fun.

But when injuries occur on the ski hill or skating pond — or even just walking on a slippery sidewalk — that fun can turn into disappointment.

“One of the most common injuries we see with winter sports is to the knee, due to downhill skiing,” says Dr. Nickolas Linkous, an orthopedic surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “It’s fairly classic to get your ski caught and your leg turns but your body keeps going. Then you have an ACL injury, and it’s common to have an associated meniscus injury with it.”

Wrist injuries, including sprains and fractures, also are common in the winter. Concussions can occur as well, especially with ice sports like hockey where there’s a potential for collisions.

Sledding can become risky if there are obstacles on the hill or if kids collide with one another. Kids should never ride down hills headfirst. Sledding hills also should have plenty of space at the bottom to stop, and no one should sled near frozen lakes or ponds.

Using safety equipment like helmets, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards, is a good idea for kids and adults alike.

Play it Safe

It’s important to be aware of how your body is holding up after multiple runs on the ski hill or a long time out on the ice. Cold and tired muscles and tendons are more susceptible to injury. When people come in with an ACL injury from skiing or snowboarding, it’s common to learn they were almost ready to finish and decided to go out for one last run, Dr. Linkous says.

“You’re much more likely to have an injury when you’re fatigued — your muscles aren’t really functioning properly to protect you the way they should,” he says.

And if you plan to spend time outdoors engaging in winter sports, don’t do so alone.

“Always have someone around, or have a means to call for help,” Dr. Linkous says. “Getting injured out in a cold environment can become serious if you’re on your own.”

Extended periods outdoors also can lead to frostbite or hypothermia. Protect your extremities with gloves and a hat, and take occasional breaks to warm up.

If you plan to walk outside, layer up and wear footwear that provides stability and traction on slippery surfaces. Keeping your center of gravity over your feet and taking smaller steps, shuffling if necessary, can help maintain your stability.

Older people are especially susceptible to slip-and-fall injuries, Dr. Linkous says.

“Young people who slip and fall on the ice or wet pavement get away with it most of the time,” Dr. Linkous says. “Maybe they have some bruising or sprains. But older people who slip and fall on the ice may sustain wrist or shoulder injuries.”

Where to Go for Care

If you do injure yourself, you can receive specialized same-day care at Orthopedic Walk-In Care at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain.

“When you’ve hurt yourself half an hour ago out in the cold, you’re not really expected to know the difference between which injury is serious and which one isn’t,” Dr. Linkous says. “Rather than going to the emergency department and sitting in a waiting room, the walk-in clinic is a great opportunity to go in, see a practitioner, and get X-rays the same day. If nothing else, you’ll have the peace of mind that there isn’t something worse going on.”

If your injury needs follow-up care, starting with the Orthopedic Walk-In Care offers a direct line to other providers you may need to see, whether that’s a non-operative sports medicine doctor or a surgeon, Dr. Linkous says.

You should visit the emergency department if you have an obvious deformity to a limb, a possible serious break, or a bad concussion, which might include symptoms of cognitive impairment, such as memory or vision issues, Dr. Linkous says.

“Winter sports are a great way to get through the long winter months in Wisconsin,” Dr. Linkous says. “Taking some care to protect yourself can help you stay safe while enjoying time in the snow this year.”

Visit Orthopedic Walk-in Care, now open Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon, as well as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Tags: bones Dr. Nikolas Linkous ice skating joints Orthopedic Walk-in Care orthopedics skiing snowboarding winter sports

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