5 ways to protect yourself from cold weather injuries

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(BPT) - Everyone seems to have an opinion on winter weather. Some welcome the sparkling beauty of snow and look forward to beloved winter activities. For others, plummeting temperatures only bring them outside when necessary, often to shovel or run errands.

No matter your personal feelings about winter, the season can present some challenges to your body's frame. Orthopaedic trauma surgeon and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), Yelena Bogdan, MD, FAAOS, offers tips to avoid common winter injuries and accidents during the cold months.

Dress for the weather

Wind and sleet. Ice and snow. The winter season can be unpredictable, so dressing appropriately for the weather is essential. Layers help you stay warm and can easily be removed if you get overheated. Water-resistant outerwear is a must to repel rain, snow, and ice. Remember to be mindful of the extremities, which can suffer frostbite quickly if not covered. Always wear high-quality hats, boots, and gloves or mittens for protection. Remind children to leave these items on when outside, but if clothing or winter attire becomes wet, to head inside to dry off or get fresh gear.

Know the signs of frostbite

Frostbite can occur in mere minutes when you are outside in extreme cold. It also can happen when temperatures are above freezing if there is strong wind. According to Dr. Bogdan, symptoms of frostbite include numbness, a frozen feeling on the skin or deeper tissue, and a waxy, white or grayish color. Seek shelter if you think someone has frostbite and gently rewarm the affected area in warm (not hot) water for at least 30 to 45 minutes, or until the area feels warm and sensation returns. Don't rub or massage the frostbitten area with your hands or with anything else.

Remove ice and snow

Whether you live in an area blanketed with snow for months or you're graced with just a few flurries a year, it's important to take care of your home and those who live there by shoveling and removing ice. Use a snow shovel or snow blower to remove snowfall and store plenty of salt or sand to sprinkle on icy spots to prevent falls on walkways and other frequently accessed outdoor spaces.

Use proper snow shoveling technique

Removing snow is essential for household safety, but the activity itself comes with risks. To prevent injuries, use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Always lift with your legs and avoid bending at the waist or throwing snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back. Finally, start early and shovel often, rather than waiting for a big snowfall to finish, which can mean heavier lifting.

Take winter sport precautions

Did you know that more than 200,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctors' offices and emergency rooms for injuries related to winter sports in 2018? According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, these injuries were the result of cold weather sports like skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and sledding. The AAOS urges sports enthusiasts to take precautions to avoid common injuries such as sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures. When participating in your favorite winter activity, make sure to wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding. Know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating and never go out alone. Stay in areas designated for your activity, such as a groomed ski hill or community sledding hill, and make sure you can see adequately.

For more winter injury prevention tips for your bones and joints, visit OrthoInfo.org.

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