“The most wonderful time of the year,” sadly, also is a time when thousands of people end up in the emergency room for injuries suffered during holiday decorating, winter sports and outdoor activities. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) offers a few important safety tips so you can enjoy the holiday season and celebrate safely.
“Common holiday season injuries can put a damper on any festive occasion,” says Rachel Rohde, MD, spokesperson for the AAOS and orthopaedic surgeon. “We participate in different activities during this season than we do during the rest of the year. Skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling are fun sports, but are not without some risks. Seemingly simple activities like carrying luggage or even walking outside to get your mail can be a disaster if there is ice on the ground.”
The hectic pace of the season can cause people to let their guards down, so before you climb that ladder to decorate your house or bring that snowblower out of the garage to clear the driveway, the AAOS recommends the following tips for a safe holiday season:
• Don’t drink and decorate. Save your celebratory drink for after the lights are up and illuminated.
• Use a ladder or step stool instead of furniture to stand on when you need to hang objects higher than your reach.
• Select the right ladder for the job. Never exceed the maximum load capacity listed on the ladder. Make sure to inspect all ladders for loose screws, hinges or rungs that might not have been fixed.
• Set your ladder on a firm, level surface. Watch out for soft, muddy spots or uneven flooring and never place a ladder on uneven ground.
• Do not have children climb ladders to decorate; their balance and strength might not be well enough developed to prevent falls.
• Enlist a friend. Ask another adult to help stabilize a ladder to prevent falls and to assist you with your efforts.
Lugging Your Luggage
• Pack light and use luggage with wheels when traveling. Ask for lifting assistance when needed.
• Take your time and don’t rush when lifting or carrying a suitcase or heavy package. At the mall, minimize heavy loads by using a cart when available and by making frequent trips to the car.
• Always use proper lifting techniques. When lifting, bend at your knees and lift with your leg muscles, not your back and waist. Avoid twisting or rotating your spine.
• Wear appropriate protective gear including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding.
• Warm up your muscles with light exercise for 10 minutes before starting your main activity. Remember to replenish fluids to prevent dehydration.
• Pay attention to the rules. Make sure all your equipment is in good working order and that you’re using it properly. If you’ve never participated in a sport before (such as skiing) take a lesson or two from a qualified instructor. Learn how to fall properly to reduce the risk of injury.
Snow and Ice
• Talk with your doctor before clearing the driveway and sidewalk of snow if you have heart or vascular conditions. Whether you use a snow blower or shovel, this heavy activity in bad weather can be very taxing on your body, particularly your heart.
• Never stick your hands in a snow blower. If snow becomes impacted in the machine, stop the engine and wait more than five seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. The snowblower blade is on tension and usually spins at least one more time once an obstruction is cleared; keep your hands and feet out of the way of that spin!
• Clear snow early and often. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid shoveling heavy, packed snow. Do not throw snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that places stress on your back.
• Make sure you use salt or an alternative “de-icer” on the driveway, walkways, and porch, if necessary. A small patch of ice can result in a big injury.
• Wear proper footwear and pay attention to what’s in front of you. Ice can cause sudden and serious falls. If you find yourself falling, try to fall on your side or rear. Roll over naturally, turning your head in the direction of the roll.
• Drive cautiously. Allow plenty of time to brake as you approach stop signs and red lights and reduce your speed in hazardous conditions.
For more information on how to stay safe during the holidays, visit www.orthoinfo.org.
Christmas tree ‘caution’ image courtesy pchow98, via Flickr.