The start of 2010 has seen many hospital casualty departments stretched to their limit with injuries from slips and falls on the snow and ice.

Men walking in snow

An afternoon stroll

Higher than average snow fall combined with the lowest temperatures for many years, has created packed ice on Britian’s roads and pavements, making driving and walking treacherous.

Demand on gritting resources and manpower has resulted in only the major roads being gritted.  Many minor roads and pathways remain untreated and special care needs to be taken when out and about.

With the right clothing and equipment, a walk on a winter’s day can be a very rewarding experience.  The light and scenery can be literally breathtaking, making us view our environment in a whole new way.

For many, the prospect of having to walk on ice and snow just fills us with dread.  The fear of slipping and injury is enough to keep most people indoors.  However, by following a few simple rules, we can adapt to the surroundings and get on with our daily lives.

Walking on ice and snow
Many of the slips and falls on ice and snow can be prevented by taking a few simple precautions, for example, wearing the appropriate footwear.

  • Only use shoes or boots designed for rough terrain or ice and snow, such as those found at outdoor and mountaineering shops.  These offer greater grip, as well as additional stability for the foot and ankle.
  • Fashion boots and dress shoes are not designed for the “off road” conditions we now find in our urban areas.

Additional grip.

A number of products are now available to offer additional grip, stability and in turn, confidence, when venturing out from the comfort of your home.

Walking boots with overshoe ice grips

Overshoe ice grips are asy to fit to most footwear.

  • There are many “over shoe” products on the market specially designed to offer additional grip for your footwear in ice and snow.
  • An older trick, (probably more suited to short or emergency journeys) is to wear a pair of thick, natural fibre (cotton/wool) socks over your shoes.
  • Use walking poles.  Walking poles are specially designed pieces of equipment which offer a little more stability in slippery conditions.  Many designs offer a carbon tip to aid grip. They are often telescopic and can fit neatly into bags and backpacks allowing them to be handy at all times, including the journey between the car and the office.
  • If you usually use a walking stick, this can easily slip in snow and ice.  You can obtain special ferrules (end caps) for some sticks or simply use a walking pole instead.

Keep warm.

  • Wearing a few layers of light clothing offers more warmth than one thick layer.
  • Two pair of socks will help to keep the feet warm allowing the muscles and tendons to work more efficiently, it also helps avoid blisters.
  • Hats, scarves and gloves – help to stop heat loss from the extremities.  A great deal of body heat is lost through the head.
  • When the outside temperature is cold, your body will naturally protect essential organs reducing blood flow to the extremities. The reduced blood supply to hands and feet makes them easily prone to ‘frost nip’ in fingers and toes. This is why your fingers and toes feel the cold first.
  • Protecting your hand and feet from the cold, is essential for sufferers of some medical conditions.  An example of this would be Raynaud’s syndrome,
  • Remember that children and the elderly often cannot regulate body temperature and will more readily suffer the effects of cold, without even being aware. Hypothermia is a greater risk in these age groups.

Use backpacks.

  • Using a backpack to carry your items, will distribute weight better than carrying a bag in one hand.  It also leaves your hands free for using walking poles and hand rails.
  • Backpacks also offer you the additional space to carry your office shoes for when you get to work.

Choose your route carefully.

  • Consider alternate routes when planning your journey.  Try to avoid steep hills and routes close to water such as canals and riverbanks.
  • Let somebody know you are going out and when you should expect to be back.
  • Walk towards the inside of the pavement – you are less likely to fall off the edge of the kerb, as this may be hidden by snow and it also reduces the risk of  falling into the path of vehicles.
  • Avoid stepping in icy puddles.  They may be deeper than you think and wet feet will freeze rapidly.
  • Allow more time for your journey.
  • Charge your mobile phone and take it with you.  If you do get injured, you need to get help quickly to avoid further problems such as hypothermia.
  • It may be attractive to walk on a treated road rather than the slippery pavement.  However, you must consider the drivers who will not be expecting you there;
  1. Wear reflective clothing to make yourself visible.
  2. Walk on the right, facing oncoming traffic.
  3. Step back onto the pavement where possible to let vehicles pass, giving them plenty of space.
  4. The driver may not be able to stop quickly or at all and the vehicles are likely to be unpredictable.
  5. The driver’s vision may be impeded by conditions, assume they cannot see you.

Protect your eyes from the winter sun.

Skiiers are only too aware of the effects of sun on snow and protect their eyes with sunglasses or goggles.

  • Glare from low bright sunlight may not allow us to see the pathway or road clearly.
  • Sunlight on the eye is thought to be the major cause of cataracts.

Is your journey necessary?.

  • This is an ideal opportunity to support your local store, milkman or mobile shop.
  • Plan your requirements for a few days ahead.  Milk, bread, eggs and veg will all keep in the fridge for a number of days.
  • Many stores now offer an online/ home delivery service. These services may offer a solution for essential goods, avoiding the additional risks of leaving your property and unwarranted car journeys.  Consider asking neighbours if they have any requirements to avoid multiple delivery journeys.

Should you be unfortunate enough to injure yourself falling on the snow and ice, visit our Sportsphysio website for some helpful advice.

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