Preventing Winter Injuries

By Leigh Vinocur, MD, FACEP, University of Maryland School of Medicine

Posted on | By Leigh Vinocur, MD, FACEP

Every year, severe winter weather brings with it potentially serious health risks and associated injuries. It's important to be aware of these and take precautions and preventive measures ahead of time. This will allow you to spend this season enjoying the outdoors instead watching it from inside of a hospital.


Slip-and-Fall Injuries

Slip-and-falls from icy conditions are commonly seen in the ER after winter storms. Wrist fractures and more serious hip fractures and head injuries from falls top the list during treacherous snow and ice storms.  It’s really best to stay inside until roads and sidewalks have been cleared. However, if you do have to venture out and walk on the snow and ice, follow these safety tips:

  • Take your time with slower and shorter steps.
  • Make sure you are wearing warm insulated footwear with good rubber tread for traction.
  • Be especially careful walking on the side of the road during and after a storm. The combination of sidewalks covered with plowed snow and poor visibility make you extremely vulnerable to getting hit by a vehicle.



Shoveling snow poses another serious risk this winter season. Soft tissue injuries of ligaments and muscles, especially in the lower back, are common from the heavy lifting, bending and twisting. Broken bones, most commonly in hands and arms, are also seen. Kids can get hurt by running past and getting hit in the head or horsing around in the area while adults are shoveling. If you have heart trouble, just walking in heavy snow or slush when it’s cold can put a significant strain on your heart, let alone shoveling it. People over 55 years of age are 4 times more likely than those younger to have a heart problem when shoveling snow. Studies found only 7% of the injuries seen shoveling were heart related, but for those with a heart condition, all deaths associated with shoveling were due to heart attacks.

Lessen your chances of getting hurt while shoveling snow:

  • Pace yourself and take frequent breaks.
  • Wear slip-resistant boots and dress accordingly.
  • Try pushing the snow as opposed to lifting it or twisting and throwing it over your shoulders.
  • It’s important to listen to your body and stop immediately if you get short of breath, start sweating profusely, or have chest pain.

For those who think using a snow blower poses no risk, serious hand injuries and finger amputations are seen in the ER every winter.

  • Never stick your hand into the shoot to unclog the snow!
  • Even after you turn it off, there is a period where the blades are still turning. The sharp blades are dangerous even when the machine is not running.

Article written by Leigh Vinocur, MD, FACEP
Board-certified Emergency Physician, Adjunct Assistant Professor LSU Health-Shreveport