It is important to be aware of the fact that winter weather brings with it the risk of falls. People can injure their hips and backs by falling on ice. Injuries range from pulled muscles to structural problems like herniated discs and joint misplacement. Learn how to care for fall-related injuries and how to prevent them in the future.
You’ve just slipped on the ice and you feel sudden muscular pain. Even if you caught yourself mid-slip, you may still have pulled a muscle. Muscles surrounding your spine work to stabilize it by engaging before we move. When you make a sudden movement, such as when falling, the muscles don’t have time to preemptively engage. They tense suddenly, and this knee-jerk action can result in strain. It is also possible to injure hip and gluteal muscles, particularly if you fall on your bottom. Muscle strain causes sharp pain that is exacerbated when you move or use the muscle. The affected muscle will likely be tender to the touch as well.
Falls are the main cause of tailbone injuries. It is possible to fracture, bruise or dislocate this bone at the base of your spine by falling on it. Tailbone injuries cause severe pain at the tailbone, pain when sitting and pain when having a bowel movement.
Another possible site of injury when falling is one or both sacroiliac (SI) joints. These joints are located where the large hip bones (ilia) connect to the sacrum at the base of the spine on each side of the body. These joints typically allow for very little movement. A fall can jar the joint or joints out of place, either causing them to lock up or to dislodge and become hypermobile. If you injure this area, you will likely feel sharp pain at the joint/s and exacerbated pain when you put weight on the leg on the affected joint’s side. Moving the leg laterally can also be particularly painful. Pain may radiate down the buttocks and thigh, especially if inflammation surrounding the joint is irritating the sciatic nerve that runs nearby.
It is also possible that a hard fall can jar the spine to the point of causing disc damage or spinal joint dislocation. This is particularly of concern for people who already have structural problems in the spine.
The typical care approach for muscle strain is ice, rest and gentle stretching. Depending on the severity of the strain, muscles may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to heal.
Tailbone injuries also require icing to reduce inflammation. Ice for 20 minutes at a time up to 4 times a day. Avoid sitting when possible; when you must sit, alternate your weight from one buttock cheek to the other and lean forward slightly (at the hips, not the back) to take pressure off the tailbone. Taking over-the-counter medication as directed to manage pain and inflammation is often helpful. Generally, tailbone injuries heal within a few weeks. Rarely, chronic pain results and surgery is required.
Icing the sacroiliac joint to limit inflammation after a traumatic injury can help relieve pain. It is important to modify activities so you don’t overload the joint as it heals, but also to keep active. Prolonged rest can cause the joint to become stiff and the surrounding muscles and ligaments to grow weak. If pain persists beyond a few weeks, it is a good idea to see a chiropractor, osteopath and/or physical therapist. A chiropractor or osteopath can be helpful if the joint needs realigning. A physical therapist can help you strengthen the area surrounding the joint, providing it with support.
While disc injuries sometimes heal on their own, a misaligned vertebra will likely require chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation combined with exercise therapy. If pain persists more than a few weeks after a fall, consider the possibility that you have a spinal problem.
The best way to prevent falls on ice is to increase the amount of traction you have on it. While good quality snow boots have some traction built into them, the best way to prevent falls is to invest in a pair of ice cleats that attach to your normal footwear. These are available in many forms. Yaktrax are perhaps the most popular brand, featuring an elastic net coiled with wire that stretches across the bottom of your footwear. Other designs feature a varied number of studs or spikes across the bottom that attach to the boot like Yaktrax. Some brands feature a velcro strap or two to secure the device to your shoe. Prices for cleats range from $10.00 to $80.00. Read customer reviews on sites like Amazon.com to help you decide what type of cleat is right for you.
Falling on ice can cause an array of injuries. Care for your body by preventing falls this winter.