According to Sanford Vieder, D.O., chief of Emergency Medicine at Beaumont Hospital, Farmington Hills, winter brings a slew of common injuries. “The most common things we see in the winter are slip and falls resulting in injuries - sprains, strains and fractures, hips especially,” he said. “Be mindful of shoes. Get a shoe that has some sort of appropriate sole on it.”
Hand injuries are also common in the winter as people reach in to unjam snow blowers. Dr. Vieder suggests turning the machine off and using a broom handle or another tool to unclog a stuck snow blower.
Shoveling snow can lead to two common problems: back pain and heart attacks.
Let’s start with back pain. “Be mindful if the snow is wet and heavy or light and fluffy,” recommends Dr. Vieder. “Get a shovel that you push like a plow. Try not to lift the snow, but if you do, bend at the knees and lift in small amounts. If it’s wet and heavy, half the shovel is more than enough.”
As for heart attacks, snow shoveling is a “perfect storm” for a cardiac event. As you shovel, the exertion causes you to breathe harder through your mouth instead of your nose. This brings cold air into your body that may cause spasms in the blood vessels around your heart, especially if you have a cardiac condition.
Because shoveling is exercise, your heart needs more blood to pump to keep up with demand. And here’s the crux of the problem: The spasming vessels are so narrowed from the cold that they can’t meet demand, which causes a heart attack.
Frost nip, frost bite and hypothermia
Gloves and dry socks are the best way to beat frost nip and bite. Nip occurs before bite.
“If you picture your extremities in layers, frost nip happens when the first few layers of tissue are frozen,” explained Dr. Vieder. “For frost bite, the entire body part, most commonly fingers and toes, is frozen through and tissue begins to die.”
If you suspect frost nip or bite, run the extremity under warm water for 20 minutes. Never use hot water or rub the finger or toes to increase circulation, according to Dr. Vieder. If after 20 minutes there is pain or no feeling at all, it’s time to head to the emergency center.
With hypothermia, your body gives plenty of warning to get warmed up before serious problems set in. “We see hypothermia in our more vulnerable populations such as the elderly, those who are significantly immunocompromised, those with dementia and those with mental illness. Depending on their mental status, they might not know they’re cold, which can lead to hypothermia,” he said.
Generally, when you start shivering, it’s your body telling you it’s time to go in. Be sure to dress in warm, dry layers, and wear a hat and gloves.
"Take precautions before going outdoors,” Dr. Vieder said. “There’s a lot of nice things to do in the winter, just be smart about it so you don’t end up being a victim.”