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6 Common Winter Injuries In Alberta & How To Avoid Them

Updated: December 11, 2023

When winter blankets Alberta in snow and ice, many of us are eager to hit the slopes or go skating at the neighbourhood outdoor rink. Even those who are not winter sports enthusiasts will still spend a good amount of time outdoors shoveling snow from sidewalks or driveways and enjoying winter activities. Unfortunately, the snow and ice that come with Alberta winters can result in some additional hazards.

We outline some of the top winter injuries and tips on how to avoid them so you can enjoy the season injury-free!

Are you more prone to injury in cold weather?

Being out in the cold weather causes a person’s blood flow to move to their core, reducing blood circulation. Less blood flow to the muscles in the limbs can compromise the muscle’s endurance, as well as the ability to produce power and strength.

This reduction in circulation also causes the temperature within the extremity to lower, which potentially causes the muscles, tendons, and connective tissues to be less pliable and elastic – making these tissues more susceptible to tearing and over-stretching. It’s more likely you’ll be sore after being active outside in the winter, but you’ll also be more likely to suffer strains or sprains, as well.

Before you strap on the skis, lace up your skates, or pick up your snow shovel, take a few minutes to prepare. Dress in warm and appropriate layers to retain body heat and prevent moisture from building up on your clothing and always make sure you’ll have access to water during your activity!

6 Common Types Of Winter Injuries

Unfortunately, there are many different incidents that can result in injuries during the winter. We’ve included some of the most common types of incidents that lead to winter injuries and how you can avoid them below:

1. Slipping or falling on ice and snow.

Slipping and falling on the ice is one of the most common causes of winter injuries, and not many of us get through winter without a fall or two. If we are lucky we walk away from these incidents with nothing but a bruise and a slight feeling of embarrassment, but this is not always the case.

Slipping and falling on the ice can result in serious injuries such as:

But even slipping and managing to stay on your feet can result in wrenching or tweaking your back. And as we age, the chances of serious injury only increase. Therefore, it is important to understand how to avoid this common winter injury.

How To Prevent An Injury From Slipping Or Falling On Ice And Snow

The best way to prevent an injury from slipping or falling on ice and snow is to pay attention to the conditions and use proper footwear. Use slip-on traction cleats (e.g. crampons or microspikes) on your footwear. They slide on and off your footwear easily and prevent you from slipping on the ice. We also recommend wearing a good pair of boots with decent tread, arch support, and insulation. We like Keens, Merrells, or Salomons and high-tops can also be good for helping to protect the ankle from rolling.

Hiking poles are also very helpful to keep your balance and prevent slipping. Many hiking poles come with small spikes on the bottom to help gain traction. Poles can be bought at almost any large retail store or outdoor store. To size them correctly, flip them upside down, place the handle on the floor and put your hand directly under the basket. Your elbow should be bent to 90 degrees.

Also, pay attention to how you walk. The best method to walk on slippery surfaces is to slightly shorten your stride, bend your knees, and walk in slow, smaller steps. Keep your arms out of your pockets and use them to help you keep your balance. If you are needing to walk like this for an extended distance, perhaps it’s better to head inside and grab a hot chocolate and wait until the conditions are safer!

Lastly, make sure your feet will stay warm and dry. When our feet get cold they can lose feeling making it harder to balance and walk on uneven surfaces. Footwear insulation and proper socks are especially important for those with diabetes or other circulatory issues.

If you’ve experienced an injury from slipping and falling, contact us! Our experienced physiotherapists can help make sure you heal as quickly and effectively as possible.

2. Back injuries as a result of shovelling.

This common winter chore can result in injury if not done properly, especially after a big snowfall! Shovelling snow requires a lot of physical exertion and repetitive twisting and lifting motions that our bodies are not always used to. This combination can exacerbate existing issues, raise your blood pressure, and put a strain on the back and body.

Most of us cannot avoid our snow shovelling duties, but we can take some precautions to help prevent injuring ourselves.

How To Prevent An Injury From Shovelling

To prevent an injury from shovelling, push instead of lift! The motion of lifting and twisting can often result in a back injury. Try not to lift the snow if at all possible as most injuries are caused by lifting; simply push the snow. When pushing, avoid twisting and push from the center of the body by placing the handle near your belly button. If you need to lift, take small amounts of snow instead of larger scoops. Also, make sure to switch your hand placement. Every few lifts switch your bottom hand with your top hand as this evens out which side of your body is doing the majority of the work and this also changes the direction of which side you’re twisting or throwing the snow.

An ergonomic snow shovel is highly recommended. This will make shovelling less stressful on the low back as you won’t have to bend down as far.

Lastly, make sure to warm up and stretch. Cold and tight muscles and joints are more easily injured, and shovelling is hard work! We recommend the following stretches:

  • Gentle squats (2 sets of 10 reps)
  • Knee pulls: Lie on your back and pull one or both knees tight to chest and hold (30 seconds, 3 reps)
  • Windshield wipers: Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and ankles and knees touching. Drop both knees to the floor in one direction, then do the same on the other side. (30 seconds each side, 3 reps)
  • Arm circles: Hold arms out and make big, gentle circles clockwise and counterclockwise. (10 times each way)
  • Hamstring Stretch: Sit on the edge of a chair with one leg straight and heel resting on the floor. Keep back strain and lean forward bringing your chest towards your knee to feel the stretch in the back of the leg. (hold for 30 seconds on each leg)

Overall, remember to take it easy. Go slow and move small amounts of snow at a time. Make sure to take frequent breaks and pay attention to your heart rate and signs of overheating. If you have previous injuries or a heart condition, it is important to respect your limitations and not overexert yourself.

If you’ve sustained an injury from shovelling snow, or have a previous injury that is holding you back, we can help! Book an appointment with one of our experienced physiotherapists today.

3. Driving and motor vehicle accidents as a result of slippery roads.

Some common winter injuries can also happen while driving. Icy roads, impatient drivers, and bad visibility can all contribute to motor vehicle accidents in the winter.

Keep yourself and the people around you safer this winter by taking some precautions!

How To Avoid Injuries From A Winter Motor Vehicle Accident

To avoid a motor vehicle accident injury as a result of poor, slippery road conditions, drive slowly! Ice (especially black ice) can be hard to see on the road. Play it safe and drive cautiously.

Don’t forget about winter tires. Winters in Alberta are no joke and our roads can get pretty dangerous at times. Make sure you have a good set of winter tires to help you navigate our slippery roads.

Depending on the weather, stay at home. Sometimes the best strategy is to stay off the roads. Check road conditions before you head out and consider staying home. Lastly, watch for signs of injury. If you do get into an accident you may not know you’ve been injured until a few days later. If left untreated these subtle injuries can turn into more long-term conditions later. Many soft tissue injuries (like whiplash) can go undetected by an x-ray or MRI. Contact your doctor or contact us if you notice any signs of pain or discomfort after a motor vehicle accident.

Did you know, after a car accident in Alberta, a person has 10 days to report their injury to a medical professional (your doctor or physiotherapist)? If you don’t do this, the amount covered for the costs of your treatment is potentially less and becomes more complicated. Make sure to contact us if you have any questions or if you are feeling less than normal.

4. Body injuries as a result of outdoor recreational activities.

Playing hockey, tobogganing with the family, and going on snowboarding trips are just some of the outdoor activities we get to enjoy in the wintertime. However, navigating icy rinks and flying down snowy hills can often end in falls, collisions, and accidents.

Stay active and have fun this winter by making sure you and your family are doing everything you can to enjoy your favourite sport or activity safely.

How To Avoid Injuries Caused By Outdoor Activities

To avoid injuries caused by cold, outdoor activities, warm up properly. Before participating in any winter sport or activity, always take the time to make sure your joints and muscles are properly warmed up.

Also, remember to stay hydrated. It is easy to forget to drink water in the wintertime, but it is just as important to stay hydrated in cold weather.

Don’t forget to have the proper equipment. Inspect your equipment and gear at the beginning of the season and replace or repair anything problematic.

If you’re going tobogganing, skiing, snowboarding, or skating, wear a helmet! Ice and snow can be both fun and dangerous. Protect yourself as best as you can by wearing a helmet and any other recommended safety gear.

Lastly, know the conditions. Slushy ice rinks, icy hills, and freezing temperatures can all increase your chance of injury. Make sure you know the conditions and terrain before heading out.

If an injury is holding you back from enjoying your favourite winter sport, contact our team. Our team of physiotherapists and massage therapists (or sports physiotherapists if you play hockey or ringette) can help make sure you heal correctly and as quickly as possible so you can get back to doing what you love!

5. Heart attacks as a result of strenuous activities.

Many winter activities can be strenuous. Even shovelling snow or using a snowblower can speed up your heart rate and increase your blood pressure. Understand the risks and know what to look for to avoid a heart attack this winter.

How To Avoid A Heart Attack As A Result Of Strenuous Activities

There’s no magic cure or a full-proof way to avoid a heart attack as it’s dependent on each person, but the best way we can share to avoid one is by knowing the risks. If you have had a previous heart attack or have one or more risk factors for heart disease, it will be especially important to be careful before doing any strenuous winter activity.

Remember to take frequent breaks, drink plenty of water, and watch for any and all warning signs. Pay close attention to your body and stop what you are doing if you feel any of the following warning signs of a heart attack.

6. Hypothermia or frostbite due to extremely low temperatures.

Alberta winters can get cold! Being outside in extremely low temperatures can result in both hypothermia and frostbite. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, increased heart rate and breathing, drowsiness and slurred speech. Signs of frostbite include a prickling feeling, numbness, and discoloured or inflamed skin.

Cold weather injuries like hypothermia and frostbite can cause permanent or even fatal injuries. Take care this winter by making sure you are taking extra precautions in extremely low temperatures.

How To Avoid Hypothermia And Frostbite

The easiest way to avoid hypothermia and frostbite is to cover up and dress properly! Your hands, ears, nose and fingers are all vulnerable to frostbite if they are not covered up. Wear gloves, a hat, and a scarf whenever you are venturing out in the cold and don’t forget to wear warm and waterproof clothing. Dress in layers and try to avoid clothing that will restrict your circulation!

Lastly, stay inside. Try to avoid being out in extremely cold weather if you don’t have to be. If you do have to go out, dress properly and limit the amount of time you are exposed to frigid temperatures.

Are you dealing with pain from a winter injury?

There’s nothing worse than resenting winter in Alberta due to an injury! If you’re dealing with ongoing or chronic pain as a result of a winter injury, get in touch with us today to book an appointmentno doctor referral needed!