Spine Health

How to Keep from Slipping on Ice and What to Do if You Can’t

Whether you love or hate winter, we all can agree that icy conditions are a (sometimes literal) pain. Indeed, no one is immune from ice-related falls. But there are ways to avoid, reduce, and respond wisely to them.

First, let’s look at what you can do to stay vertical when walkways are slick.

  1. Stay indoors if possible. It may sound obvious, but it’s smart to stay inside when it’s icy out. If you have outdoor chores that can wait until the ice melts, then wait. Exercise indoors instead out outdoors. Don’t go outside unless you absolutely have to. The less time you spend on ice, the less chance you have of falling.
  2. Wear appropriate footwear. If you must go outside, wear some decent snow boots. Sure, you might track mud or snow into the house, but that’s better than falling and hurting yourself. If you don’t own snow boots, buy some. They’re far better at protecting you from a fall than, say, tennis shoes.
  3. Tread carefully. Even when wearing good snow boots, take care with how you walk. Don’t hurry. Take slow, deliberate steps, and keep your eyes on the ground. Plant your entire foot on the ground with each step instead of landing heel-first, as you might when running.

 Now, let’s imagine you take all of those precautions, but you still slip and fall. Hey, it can happen to the best of us. The good news is, there are some things you can do during your fall to lessen the damage. 

  1. Protect your head. During a fall, guarding your brain against injury should be your top priority. Tuck your chin. If you’re falling face-first, turn your head to the side. Try to lift your arms to your head for protection before impact—in front of your head if falling forward, and behind your head if falling backwards.
  2. Share the pain. You don’t want one single part of your body to absorb all of the impact. Many who fall on the ice land flat on their buttocks, and this can lead to a compression fracture to the lower vertebrae. So use your hands, arms, or elbows to help absorb the impact. A broken wrist is better than doing serious damage to your back. 
  3. Don’t tighten up. Once you know you’re going down, in addition to following the above advice, try to keep your body nice and loose. A tension-filled body is more likely to sustain serious injury than one that is, relatively speaking, relaxed. 

Now what happens if you fall and actually do some damage? If you break or sprain something—say your wrist, elbow, or ankle—you’ll want to get help getting up (if possible) and get to the ER. But if you injure your head or back during a fall, it isn’t always easy to know whether it’s serious enough for a trip to the hospital. Here’s our best advice.

  1. If you’re over 65, be overly cautious. We’re all more susceptible to brain injuries as we age. If you’re older than 65 and you fall and hit your head, it’s a good idea to get to the doctor and get it checked out right away, just to be safe. 
  2. If you land on your rear, watch for back pain. As we mentioned earlier, ice slips tend to land people on their backsides, which can cause a compression fracture. If you feel immediate back pain after a fall onto your rear end, get to the ER and get an X-ray.
  3. Monitor manageable back pain. If you fall and have lingering but manageable back pain, get some rest. Take some ibuprofen. Not to add insult to injury, but an ice pack is better than heat for pain. If the pain continues for a week or more, you’ll want to talk to your doctor. 
  4. If you hit your head and lose consciousness, get to the ER. Don’t wait. Just go. Immediately. It might not mean a life-threatening injury, but it can be a symptom of a serious problem, such as bleeding in the brain. Additionally, vomiting, seizures, loss of memory, or confusion are all signs that you should go straight to the hospital after a blow to the head.
  5. When in doubt, seek care. When it comes to back and head injuries—and especially head injuries—it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you find yourself torn over whether or not to go to the hospital, the smart thing to do is to just go. You can’t be too careful (except when walking on ice, of course).

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