Simple Tips to Avoid Common Injuries and Illnesses This Winter

For some, the winter months are a time to head outside and enjoy the snow and seasonal activities. For others, it means holidays, gatherings or even just finding ways to stay out of the cold.

We’ve collected some safety tips that can help you stay health and avoid common injuries, no matter how you plan to spend the coldest months of the year.

Be mindful of the risk of Covid-19 and other illnesses.

The identification of the Omicron Variant and the mid-December announcement of additional mask requirements in New York state are just two of the many indications that the Covid-19 pandemic is still a significant part of our day-to-day lives. Alan Sanders, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, says previously reported upticks in Covid-19 cases following holiday gatherings is a sign of what can happen by not taking the risk for illness seriously.

“Don’t ignore what we’ve already seen,” Dr. Sanders says. “When we get back indoors, we’ve seen waves of increased infections.”

Dr. Sanders says it’s a miscalculation to believe that preventive measures that have been taken through the duration of the pandemic shouldn’t continue.

“We know that vaccines, and notably boosters, work,” Dr. Sanders says. “We know that masking and social distancing work to protect against the virus. We know we can make an impact by taking these measures.”

And, of course, don’t forget your flu shot! There is still time.

Drive with caution in wintry conditions, even if you feel completely comfortable behind the wheel.

From a quick trip to the store to a day-long trip to see family, traveling by car in the colder months can mean navigating snow and ice on the roads. Staying safe begins before you put your vehicle in drive. Experts recommend proper maintenance of your vehicle, including clearing all snow and ice before you start driving.

Once you hit the road, take it slow when snow or ice pose a danger.

“Try to reduce your speed and increase your following distance,” said Tom Moran, trauma education, injury prevention and outreach coordinator. “That will give you time to react when conditions get slick.”

Moran stresses that the number one way to prevent serious injuries in case of a crash is to ensure that everyone in the car is wearing their seatbelt or is properly restrained.

Start making your plans for getting home from holiday celebrations.

The message is a familiar one around the holidays but, all too often, is not followed. One key point is preparation. Moran says “buzzed” driving, or driving anytime you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs, can have dangerous consequences. He says being responsible doesn’t end with you alone.

“Have a plan to get home safely, and if you see someone else making a poor decision, say something and do something,” Moran said. “A funeral is the wrong time to think about what you could have done to prevent a crash.”

Take advantage of popular ridesharing and taxi services as well as special programs in your community that offer free rides around the holidays.

Make every step count to ensure that you don’t have a serious fall.

Falls are the number one cause of injury among adults. A fall can lead to a loss of mobility, loss of independence, social isolation, and further medical problems.

“Slipping on ice is probably one of the most common ways to injure yourself,” said sports medicine physician Brady Bowen, DO. “A fall can result in shoulder, back, hip or leg injuries and even concussions or traumatic brain injuries.”

Experts suggest simple steps to prevent falls during the winter months:

  • Clear snow and ice from main pathways at home and avoid using those paths that haven’t been cleared.
  • Wear appropriate footwear with non-slip soles, evening if you’re running out “for a minute.”
  • Take your time. Walk with shorter steps and a wider stance to improve stability.
    Go outside with your cell phone. If you do fall, it can be your lifeline to call for help or medical attention.

Take a few extra minutes when shoveling or removing snow and ice. It can be critical to your health.

Avoiding overexertion and hydrating regularly are important when it comes to clearing snow and ice. When shoveling, avoid twisting and bending and lift with your knees, not your back.

Using a snowblower can get the job done while putting less strain on your body, but injuries can occur when you don’t play it safe. If a snowblower gets jammed, never put your hands inside the chute and avoid wearing loose clothing that could get caught in the machine.

One other precaution is to be mindful of where you blow the snow, as loose objects can become dangerous projectiles.

Get outside and stay active but take precautions.

One of the most popular activities for winter enthusiasts is skiing. Dr. Bowen said being aware of your conditioning and how much your body can take are vital to staying at your best. He said if you’re starting to feel tired, take it easy.

“Proper form is harder to maintain when the muscles are fatigued,” Dr. Bowen said. “More injuries occur on the last run of the day for the average skier, so it’s important to know when to stop.”

One other tip from Dr. Bowen – be sure to stay on trails of your skill level so that you don’t wind up in a potentially dangerous area of the mountain.

Avoid the common mistakes that can lead to frostbite or hypothermia.

Dressing appropriately for the weather can help you avoid serious injury and a health emergency. Even a few minutes outside can be dangerous in cold weather without the proper precautions.

Simple things such as dressing in layers, staying dry, wearing a hat along with a scarf, gloves or mittens to cover exposed skin, can prevent frostbite and hypothermia. If a problem occurs, seek treatment quickly.

“It’s important to be aware of the warning signs, such as confusion, shivering, difficulty speaking, sleepiness and stiff muscles,” Moran said. “Act early and seek treatment if you start to feel symptoms.”

If a person can’t get medical help right away, Moran says to get the person into a warm room or location, remove wet clothing and begin to try to warm the center of the person’s body, including the chest, neck, head and groin.

Additional winter safety tips can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.