Stay Fit and Injury-Free this Winter

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Stay Fit and Injury-Free this Winter

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Many people love spending sunny winter days on ski slopes, sledding or simply enjoying the outdoors. However, winter injuries can often lead to slips and falls. In the United States, 3.8 million people suffered winter sports injuries in 2013. While some people may choose to ignore the mild, lingering pain after a fall, that is not always the best choice. Discover how to prevent common winter injuries and when an injury requires a visit to the doctor. 

Ankle Sprain

Running is good winter exercise, but icy sidewalks lead to falls, and falls may lead to ankle sprains. Ankle sprains are very common - there are over 3 million cases in the U.S. each year. A sprain occur when the ankle rolls or twists in an awkward way, causing ankle ligaments to tear. 

It can be difficult to tell if you have a mild sprain or something more severe. Typically, if your sprain is mild, you are still able to put a light amount of weight on your foot. In a severe ankle sprain, the ankle is very painful, unstable and unusable. 

Additional symptoms include: 

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • A limited range of motion
  • Bruising

When do you need to see a doctor?

The severity of ankle sprains can vary, but they are usually easily treated with ice and rest. Pain typically resolves within days to a few weeks. If you're still feeling ongoing pain after a couple of months, it may be time to see your doctor or a pain specialist. Your doctor will want to make sure your ankle is not fractured or broken. 

Prevent an Ankle Sprain

  • Watch for icy spots while jogging and make sure sidewalks around your house and your driveway are free of ice and snow to help protect other outdoor enthusiasts
  • Salt any areas covered in ice
  • Warm up your muscles before you exercise with stretches
  • Wear shoes that fit well and are made for your activity
  • Strengthen the muscles around your ankles with ankle exercises. Simply moving your ankle from side to side and around in circles can help. 

Wrist Fracture

A wrist fracture, also called a broken wrist, is often caused when people try to catch themselves during a fall. Wrist fractures are one of the most common types of fractures, and certain winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding and skating can increase your risk of a wrist injury. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Severe pain that increases when gripping
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Numbness in your hand
  • In severe cases, the wrist may actually appear bent or crooked

When do you need to see a doctor?

The symptoms of a wrist pain or wrist fracture can be similar. If you're not sure whether your wrist is fractures or sprained, it's better to be on the safe side and see your doctor. It's important to identify the type of wrist injury as soon as possible and begin treatment so the bones in your wrist can heal properly. 

If you are in severe pain and your wrist, arm or hand is numb, you should go to the emergency room immediately. 

Prevent a Wrist Fracture

  • Be careful when exercising outdoors in the winter
  • Build bone strength by eating a nutritious diet with enough calcium and vitamin D
  • Use wrist guards and other protective gear when participating in winter activities

Buckle-Fracture of the Wrist

Winter is a fun time for children to be active outdoors, but just like adults, they're at risk for winter injuries. Buckle fractures are the most common type of wrist fracture in children, and like other wrist injuries, they are often caused by trying to catch yourself during a fall. Buckle fractures cause the bone to bend or buckle. They are a unique type that only happens during childhood because bones are softer and more able to bend during this stage. 

Symptoms include:

  • Wrist pain
  • Tingling or numbness in the hand
  • Limited movement
  • Bruising
  • The forearm may appear bowed

When do you need to see a doctor?

If you think your child has suffered a buckle fracture, you should see a doctor immediately. The wrist will need to be put in a cast or splint to heal and grow like it should. Fortunately, children heal quickly, and a minor fracture can resolve in a matter of weeks if treated properly. 

Prevent a Buckle-Fracture of the Wrist:

  • Teach your children how to safely walk on icy sidewalks and streets
  • Make sure your children are wearing protective gear such as wrist guards
  • Have your children wear appropriate snow boots

Back Strain

If you've suffered from back pain in the past, you're not alone. Back pain is the second most common reason for doctor's visits in the U.S. Back strain and sore muscles are a common injury from downhill and cross-country skiing. A back strain occurs when the muscles surrounding the spine stretch too far and are pulled or torn. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Muscle cramping 
  • In severe cases, may feel weakness in the muscles of your legs or pain and numbness that travels down your legs

When do you need to see a doctor?

For a minor back strain, people typically do not need to see a doctor. It's usually best to ice your back, rest and take pain relievers if necessary. If you have severe pain that lasts longer than a few days or makes breathing or standing difficult, you should see your doctor to make sure you're not dealing with a more serious injury 

Prevent a Back Injury

  • Wear snow boot, which can provide more traction
  • Exercise regularly to strengthen your back muscles

If you have think you may have seriously injured yourself, please call 911 immediately or visit our emergency room. 

Although you can't predict when a winter injury will occur, there are things you can do to stay safe and active! If you're suffering from acute or chronic pain, the experts at UnityPoint Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine can help you get back to your healthy winter lifestyle. 

Palmer_ChrisDr. Christopher Palmer is an orthopedic surgeon at UnityPoint Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Dubuque. He is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. Dr. Palmer specializes in arthroscopic surgery and sports medicine. He sees patients for hip, knee and shoulder replacements, work-related injuries, and hand and upper extremity surgeries, among many other general orthopedic conditions, including pediatric patients. 

He also specializes in sports medicine - the practice of examining and restoring musculoskeletal structures in athletes through medical, rehabilitative, or surgical means. He helps youth, high school, collegiate, professional and recreational athletes recover from their sports-related injuries and conditions.