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How to Avoid Falls on the Ice

Emilie has lived in cold climates for most of her life. She has spent more time with ice than she usually cares to think about.

To the left is a plowed biking lane with slick spots. On the right is an un-plowed walking path.

To the left is a plowed biking lane with slick spots. On the right is an un-plowed walking path.

Anyone who’s spent time in a cold climate knows the feeling of their feet slipping out from under them. Gravity is especially painful this time of year. Falls happen but you usually avoid them with the right precautions.

Plan Ahead

Traffic slows down to a crawl. Public transit is delayed. Between the snow, cold, and ice, winter slows everything down. We’re used to thinking of only traffic when we think of wintertime slowdowns, but it also applies to pedestrians. Sidewalks become treacherous in the winter, more-so than the roads because it’s up to the property owners to remove the snow. That doesn’t always happen, and there’s little to be done about melt runoff.

The best way to prevent falls is to slow down and concentrate on your footing. If you have a place to be at a certain time, plan ahead and leave early enough to accommodate your place. When you don’t feel rushed, you can pay better attention to where you’re stepping and how you’re walking.

Winter Footwear

Another vital part of avoiding falls is to wear the proper footwear. This means winter or work boots instead of those cute fashion boots in stores or sneakers. Boots need to have the following qualities to function well in the winter weather.

Elements of Winter Boots

PropertyReason

Good tread

Provides extra traction

Warm

Prevents numbness and frostbite

Comfortable

Less likely to limp due to foot-pain

Good Support

Offers weak ankles or arches support to avoid rolling them

If you’re a runner like I am, either invest in shoes made for winter running, hit the treadmill, or wear good socks with a product like YakTrax on your shoes.

On the right are New Balance running shoes with Yak Trax. The Trax should be better centered on the toe, but they worked for now. On the left are the work boots from Carhartt that  double as winter and hiking boots. I wear extra socks in winter.

On the right are New Balance running shoes with Yak Trax. The Trax should be better centered on the toe, but they worked for now. On the left are the work boots from Carhartt that double as winter and hiking boots. I wear extra socks in winter.

Weight Distribution

How you walk is just as important as what you wear. If you must walk on ice, go slow, keep your feet under your hips as much as possible, and take small steps, shuffling if you need to. Keeping control of your center of gravity is vital to avoiding falls and that means paying attention to how you’re walking.

Walk Like a Penguin - Tuxedo Optional

Watch Where You’re Going

It’s tempting to get lost in the beauty of freshly fallen snow or the distraction of our phones. If you need to get somewhere on foot, though, winter is not a good time to enjoy the scenery or return texts while walking. Watch the ground in your path as you go. Icey patches can come up unexpectedly, so the more you can avoid them, the better.

If You Fall

If you do find yourself falling, there’s probably not a whole lot you can do to prevent it. As soon as you feel yourself going, bend your knees. This will give you a little more control of the motion and reduce how far you’ll fall. That will give you the chance to distribute the force more easily.

Don’t try to catch yourself with your arms, either. It’s instinct to do so, but usually all you’ll do is injure your arms and wrists.

The most important thing to remember is to avoid hitting your head on the ground. Tuck your chin to your chest to avoid snapping your head back when you land. Also try shifting your weight to fall on your side instead of your back. However, if you do fall backwards, there are also a few things you can do to minimize injury.

Round your back and rock back. Rocking back instead of falling flat will distribute the force of the fall over a greater area of your body and minimize your risk of injury. This is a variation of a martial arts fall, which is designed to help students fall without hurting themselves.

I've successfully avoided hurting myself on the ice with this technique many times in years past.

Basic Back Fall

Winter can be a beautiful time of year, but it can also be dangerous. You could avoid injury and enjoy the season without pain with the right precautions.

YakTrax for Runners

Comments

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on January 28, 2020:

Oh, Heidi, ouch! I'm glad your wrist is better. I've sprained and strained mine (jammed my elbows and shoulders, too) enough that I do my best to fight that instinct.

I don't mind cold as much as I used to, and snow can be nice, but that ice is terrible.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on January 28, 2020:

I love winter... but not the ice! Snow and cold are fine.

Can so relate about using arms to break your fall. Even though it wasn't on ice, last spring I tripped over my dog and broken my wrist by trying to break my fall. Had to get a plate put in. All good now though.

Thanks for sharing the tips!

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on January 28, 2020:

I actually did wind up with an injured hip a couple years back from a fall. Thankfully, it was just a nasty bruise, but I was sore for quite a while as it healed. I was on an icy hill while checking on the in-law's property they were selling at the time. Since they were out of town, they couldn't keep it up. It was one of those situations where I was on my feet one minute and on the ground a second later. I've fallen a few times since then, but could control those falls, so I haven't been hurt from the ice since.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 28, 2020:

Great advice. I think mostly about an injured hip.