Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Winter can be strange in the UK, days can veer wildly from unseasonably warm, to full coatings of ice with no warning. Then you casually step out of your back door, straight onto ice, and find yourself on your back, staring up at the 6am sky, wondering if all your limbs will still function.
Is there a good way to fall if I slip on ice?
Well, yes there is. 😀Most slips on ice result in a backwards fall as your feet slip out from under you. This is a frightening and potentially very damaging way to fall as you cannot see the ground coming and there is no natural opportunity to arrest the imminent impact by putting your arms out in front of you. Injuries from a backwards fall can be really quite nasty. Most people will hit the back of their head or land on their Coccyx, both of which are extremely painful. The Coccyx in particular can bother people for years, without the correct treatment.
Attempts to put your hand down whilst falling backwards result in broken upper limbs due to the position your wrist and arm goes into. But there is something you can do to help. Become aware of the concept of a 'Back Break fall'. This is something anyone who has done Judo will be familiar with and the fundamental aim is to dissipate the impact of landing on your back.
How do I learn to break fall?
We are not about to try and teach you to break fall and for many it will be completely inappropriate to try and physically learn. But a quick internet search will reveal plenty of tutorials on how to break fall and at the very least the tips about how to protect your head and what to do with your arms are useful information. Even without physical practice you will take information on board and with a little mental practice and visualisation it could make the difference between hurting yourself or not. It has been well established through Sports Psychology that a skill can be learned through visualisation alone.
How can I avoid slips on ice?
There are many ways you can reduce your chances of slipping on an icy surface, the first of which is awareness. This is something that would have stopped my impromptu and painful examination of the morning sky, had I taken two seconds to note the weather conditions before stepping out of the door. Once we have established that it may be icy then we can do a few things to limit the chances of a fall:
Firstly........shoes. You can get shoes that are designed for winter, they look normal but have a sole that is of a softer compound that actually grips on ice, just like winter tyres for your car.
For a couple of pounds you can buy a set of what are effectively golf shoe spikes that slip over your normal shoe with a couple of elasticated straps. These fit really well in a handbag or coat pocket.
Finally walking with a shorter gait. This is not the time nor conditions to be striding out. Slow your walk down and shorten up your stride. This keeps your feet under your centre of gravity meaning if you do slip then its likely to be just that and not a fall as you are well in balance at all points.
What should I do if I hurt myself after slipping on Ice?
Well, ice may have injured you, but it can also be your friend! Applying an icepack to a bruised area or strained muscle helps the healing process provided you follow a few simple rules:
Ice for no more than 10 minutes at a time and when both possible and realistic apply the ice every hour. Do this over 2-3 days.
Use a dedicated reusable ice/gel pack. These are available for a few pounds from most chemists and are designed specifically for the job, right down to the degree to which the gel cools. Ice cubes, frozen peas, and ice blocks are ill suited to the job and can cause ice burn. Whatever you use make sure you put a thin cotton barrier between the 'ice pack' and the skin such as a thin tea towel a t-shirt or leggings.
Do not put sustained heat such as a hot water bottle, deep heat or a bath over the injured area for the first few days (a warm shower is fine). It will delay the healing process and potentially create further bruising or bleeding.
Seek help if an injury is still painful after a week. Most muscle injuries clear up within a week (if iced well) due to the excellent blood supply to muscle fibres, the first three days being the fibres repairing an 'knitting' back together. Something that still bothers you after a week, will almost certainly be tendon or ligament based, which with a poor blood supply will not fully heal without help and will most likely continue to bother you for three weeks, three months, three years, or three decades after.
Should I do extra warm up before going out exercising in icy weather?
In a simple word: Yes!
Muscles display viscoelastic properties, meaning there is a fluid based component to the muscles makes up. Anything viscoelastic becomes more pliable with heat and stiffer with cold. Prove this to yourself with a piece of Blu-tack, which is a viscoelastic material. Put it outside on a cold day, or pop it in the fridge then try to stretch it. Now role it in your warm hands or pop it in your pocket, once its warm give it a stretch and watch the difference.When we ask our limbs to go through a larger range of movement than normal everyday activities, such as going from a walking length stride to a longer running stride the muscles will have to stretch further to allow that to happen. This is the point at which we can 'pull' muscles. Think about that Blu-tack and make sure you do a little extra in your warm up.
The Reinge Clinic is a Physiotherapy, Sports Therapy, Sports Science clinic based in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. Take a look at our facebook page for our pain, injury and exercise advice posts and learn more about us on our website.
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