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How to avoid winter-weather injuries

As the temperature drops and the snow falls, you risk a variety of winter-related injuries. Somewhere, someone's Facebook feed plays a video of someone slipping, sliding and crashing into snow. To a laughing viewer, a fall may not seem like a big...

Megan Gietzen, nurse practitioner, Sanford Health East Clinic. (Submitted photo)
Megan Gietzen, nurse practitioner, Sanford Health East Clinic. (Submitted photo)

As the temperature drops and the snow falls, you risk a variety of winter-related injuries.

Somewhere, someone's Facebook feed plays a video of someone slipping, sliding and crashing into snow. To a laughing viewer, a fall may not seem like a big deal, but falls can cause a variety of injuries ranging from mild to severe, including ankle and wrist sprains and strains and broken bones.

To avoid slips and falls in winter weather, Megan Gietzen, nurse practitioner for Sanford Health East Clinic, said to "take short steps" and "take your time" when walking. She advises keeping all walkways and stairs clear of ice and snow, keeping deicer or sand on hand and wearing proper footwear.

If you do not wear boots or if you're still sliding in boots, you can increase traction in ice and snow by attaching snow and ice cleats to your shoes, which work like chains on the tires of a vehicle. You can also coat the bottoms of your shoes with non-slip shoe spray to prevent sliding.

You could also be injured while shoveling snow.

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Gietzen said to avoid back injury when shoveling snow, make sure to maintain good posture and ergonomics. Look for for shovels with an ergonomic handle and a curved bottom.

"That's good for keeping you straight up and down while you're keeping that back straight," she said. "Most lumbar injuries come when the person is bending over and putting a lot of strain on their back and not using their ab muscles, so then the back has to overcompensate for those abs."

Those injuries can take around 4-6 weeks to improve or even longer for more severe injuries, Gietzen said.

In bitter cold weather, chores like shoveling snow can also lead to a heart attack, primarily in people with a pre-existing heart condition.

"Strenuous exercise can over-exacerbate their symptoms, cause more pressure and concern on the heart, which will then lead to a heart attack," she said.

Gietzen said signs of a heart attack include "chest pain, shortness of breath, severe fatigue, pain that goes up into the jaw and down the arm, nausea, vomiting and sweating more than normal."

To avoid the stress on the heart when shoveling, break up the job into multiple parts.

"You don't wanna shovel all at once, if that is possible," she said.

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Cold weather can also cause frostbite, the first signs of which are shaking and shivering, said Gietzen.

Extremities-fingers, toes, nose, ears or cheeks-are most susceptible to frostbite.

"If you notice that you either can't feel them or they're tingling or they are very painful, then that's the time you want to get inside and warm back up," she said. "Put that extremity or body part under warm water-not hot water-and see if the feeling starts to come back. If it doesn't, that's when you need to be seen by a health care provider."

To avoid frostbite, wear proper clothing: long-sleeved shirt, jacket, gloves, hat, thick socks and boots.

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