As a severe winter ushers through freezing temperatures, snow storms, ice, wind, and sleet all over the country, the call for winter weather injury prevention has never been more important.
Get to know these common icy weather injuries and heed caution when heading outdoors!
A hard blow from the impact of your shoulder hitting the ground when you slip and fall on the ice can cause serious damage to your shoulder joint.
The complex structure of the shoulder includes three large bones – the collarbone (clavicle), shoulder blade (scapula), and upper arm bone (humerus) – and connective ligaments and muscles that hold everything together.
Where the ball of the humerus rests in the socket of the scapula you find the glenohumeral joint.
Rotator cuff muscles stabilize this joint connecting the head of the humerus to the scapula.
The acromioclavicular joint, on the other hand, is where the clavicle connects to the scapula, gliding along its top part known as the acromion.
Commonly, a hard fall on ice will result in either a rotator cuff tear or shoulder separation. If you incur a rotator cuff tear from a fall, you will likely experience a snapping sensation, immediate pain in the front of your shoulder that radiates down your arm, as well as weakness in your arm, especially when reaching or lifting.
With a shoulder separation, it’s the ligaments connecting the clavicle and scapula which tear or rupture leading to acute pain, and in more serious cases, a visible lump in the top of the shoulder.
Tenderness, swelling, and limited movement in and around the acromioclavicular joint are also hallmarks of this injury.
Luckily, shoulder injuries like these are often treated without surgical intervention. A doctor who is able to diagnose the injury may recommend steroid injections, NSAIDs or Tylenol to help with pain and swelling, as well as ice therapy, immobilization with a shoulder sling, rest, and physical therapy.
If the injury is followed by persistent pain and weakness, or suspected nerve damage that does not go away with home remedies, surgery to repair damaged ligaments may be considered.
Say you slip and fall, but to save your head from the hard impact with the icy ground you put your hands out to brace your fall? Oftentimes this natural reflex will end with a wrist injury.
While this protects your shoulder, head, and face from potential injury, a fall onto an outstretched arm is notorious for causing what is known as a distal radius fracture.
The largest bone in your forearm, known as the radius, often breaks near the wrist with this type of fall, with the broken portion angling upwards toward the hand.
Sometimes the ulna, the other bone in the forearm, will also break, or the ligaments connecting your wrist joint together will become overstretched with hard impact leading to a wrist sprain.
If you do fracture your wrist, you will almost immediately feel pain and tenderness as well as see bruising, swelling, and even potentially bone deformity with the wrist hanging or bending in an odd way.
A sprained wrist will also be accompanied by swelling, pain, tenderness, and bruising; a mild sprain may still allow some pained movement in the wrist while a severe sprain can alter the shape of your wrist and make any movement extremely painful.
Sprained and even fractured wrists are commonly healed without surgery and instead with bracing or splinting for a prolonged period of time (on average 4 to 6 weeks).
A plaster cast may be administered for a single, clean break, while surgery may be required for more complicated breaks where pieces of bone have to be put back together and aligned with metal pins, screws, plates, or fixators.
If you slip and fall on the ice and happen to avoid slamming your shoulder or wrists, the next likely candidate for injury will be your back.
While a herniated disk might sound like a degenerative injury that occurs over time, the truth is that one slip on the ice can lead to a traumatic impact comprising the tough casing around a spinal disk.
Think of your spinal disks as small jelly doughnuts that rest between the vertebrae, helping to cushion the individual bones of the spine as well as absorb shock and evenly distribute pressure from the force placed upon them.
If the jelly, inner core, of a disk bulges out of its containment area, it can irritate or pinch nerves coming off of the spine resulting in weakness, numbness, tingling, and mild to severe pain in the arm, back, or buttocks depending on the location of the herniation.
While rare, a hard fall on the ice can result in an acute herniated disk either in your lower back (lumbar spine) or your neck (cervical spine).
You may not notice it right away, however, actions like coughing, sneezing, or moving your back in a certain may cause intense pain in your shoulder, arm, buttocks, thigh, or even your calf. You may also stumble more or find it hard to hold or lift items.
A physical exam accompanied by imaging and nerve tests can help doctors diagnose your herniated disk.
Typically surgery is not required for treatment, but rather pain medication, steroid injections, muscle relaxers, massage, spinal manipulation, physical therapy and even acupuncture are recommended.
Surgical intervention may be pursued to remove* the disk protrusion if symptoms do not dissipate after 6 weeks.
Occasionally, falls on the ice can also result in traumatic head injuries like subdural hematomas and concussions.
If you or someone you know falls down on the ice, seek medical treatment quickly to prevent potentially life-threatening complications.
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