We’ve seen the first blast of icy winter weather across the UK this month and social media has been full of photos of snow and ice. But, unfortunately, as the temperatures drop the number of accident-related fractures tends to rise and this has been a busy time for us in the clinic as we’ve been diagnosing and treating broken wrists, arms, ankles, hips and feet.
Lockdown means that fewer people are out and about right now, which is helping to reduce the risk of injuries. This is a good thing both for them and for our colleagues in the NHS, which is overstretched due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, fractures can and do occur.
Each year we advise our patients to take measures to reduce their risk of getting injured in winter weather, but this year it is more important than ever before due to the pressures on healthcare services. Slips and falls can be serious at any age but particularly among older people. Bones can become more fragile as we age due to a condition called osteoporosis. Often referred to as a silent disease because it progresses without any obvious symptoms, osteoporosis causes a gradual loss of bone tissue or bone density making the bones much more likely to fracture if they are subjected to trauma, such as a fall. A person who has experienced a fall-related fracture tends to become fearful of falling again and may limit their activities to reduce the chance of this happening. This can have a significant impact on quality of life.
How to avoid injuries
If you have osteoporosis or believe you may be at increased risk of falling, there are things you can do to improve your balance and prevent yourself from becoming injured. We recommend:
- Exercises to strengthen your muscles – loss of muscle strength plays a key role in falling
- Daily balancing exercises – ageing slows reaction times which makes it harder for someone to regain their balance if they slip or fall
- Making sure you have the right glasses or contact lenses – changes in vision contribute to an increased risk of falling
- Reading the side-effects for any medication you are taking for chronic conditions – certain medications, such as blood pressure pills and heart medication, can cause dizziness, slowed reflexes or confusion which may make you prone to falling.
- Avoiding drinking alcohol before going outside – it slows response time and reflexes and may affect balance or cause light-headedness.
- Wearing the right kind of footwear – sturdy footwear with a good grip on the sole and proper ankle support will help to prevent slipping on icy surfaces and will protect your ankles if you do have a fall.
- Doing a light warm-up before you go outside can help you to avoid injuring cold muscles and ligaments. A few simple stretches are all that you need to do.
- Only going out if you need to – if the weather forecast is poor or there is a high risk of ice, snow or heavy rain, consider putting off your trip until conditions improve. If you need vital supplies, maybe ask a younger friend, neighbour or family member if they could get them for you.
- Avoiding shovelling snow – it can seem like a good idea to shovel snow off driveways and paths to reduce the risk of falling but it is actually a very physical task that can cause injury to your lower back, arms and hands, particularly if you are not used to this type of heavy manual work. Consider asking someone to do it for you.
Get help if you injure yourself
If you do fall, it is important to get a proper diagnosis as continuing to use an injured limb may worsen the injury and could result in permanent damage. You may need a CT scan, MRI scan or X-ray to determine the nature and extent of any damage. If you have fractured a bone you may be offered different types of treatment depending on the severity of the break, for example:
- Splints to prevent the limb from moving
- A cast to immobilise and support the bone
- A brace to support the bone
- Metal rods or plates to hold broken pieces of bone in place – these will require surgery
- Pain relief
If you have sustained an injury and believe you may have fractured a bone, we are fully open and offering diagnosis and treatment. Contact us for more information.
Orthopaedic specialists – Nottingham
Our orthopaedic consultants each specialise in a particular area of orthopaedics, giving you added peace of mind that you are receiving expert medical advice and highly tailored treatment.
BMI The Park Hospital
Sherwood Lodge Drive Burntstump Country Park, Arnold NG5 8RX
Spire Nottingham Hospital
Tollerton Ln, Tollerton, Nottingham NG12 4GA