As you may have already noticed, it’s been a tad on the cold side this week. Britain and Ireland are currently in the grip of some unusually chilly conditions, affectionately dubbed ‘The Beast from the East’ by the media. The freezing temperatures and snowfall are the result of a concerning climate anomaly – sudden stratospheric warming. Temperatures above the North Pole have warmed by roughly 30°C, the highest temperature ever recorded in February. While this is another worrying sign of our changing global climate, most of us can only deal with the immediate problems that this abnormal weather presents.
Icy roads, packed trains, slippery platforms, snowed-in driveways and attempts to imitate the Winter Olympic skeleton bobsleigh team on a cheap plastic sled… the wintry weather presents a multitude of novel scenarios in which we could pick up musculoskeletal injuries. In addition to the expected sore elbows and bumped knees, the adverse weather can sometimes lead to injuries that are more serious, especially in the elderly. Below, IPRS Health has outlined our three top tips for staying safe and reducing the risk of injury in the coming days.
1. Stilettos or skis? Wear sensible footwear!
With treacherous surfaces underfoot, it makes sense to choose practicality over fashion when the East wind is blowing up your trouser leg. Unsurprisingly, slipping on icy pavements or steps is one of the commonest ways of acquiring new bumps and bruises. Reduce the risk by wearing supportive, well-laced, waterproof shoes or boots with strong grips, to keep the cold out of your toes and give you the traction you need. If you are unlucky enough to twist your ankle, remember POLICE. The ‘P’ is for Protection (for 48-72 hours), it’s important to avoid re-injury initially, so making sure you keep your ankle away from risk of further injury is important. The ‘O’ and the ‘L’ are for Optimal Loading. This means that although it may be sore using your ankle, after the initial protection phase, it is important to use the ankle sooner rather than later as this can improve the time taken to heal. ‘ICE’ stands for Ice, Compression and Elevation. The ice will help to relieve some pain (even though you may not feel like it in this weather!), but just be sure you don’t apply the ice directly to your skin, and the compression (having the ice wrapped around your ankle tightly – but not too tight!) and elevation (having your foot above the level of your heart) can help to reduce any swelling that might be present.
2. Shovelling and stress – it’s snow joke.
‘The Beast’ has left us with a number of physical challenges that we may not normally have to deal with, and which may aggravate old aches and pains, or leave us discovering muscles we didn’t even know we had! An example of this could be some low back pain following vigorous driveway clearing with a shovel, whilst running late for work. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with shovelling, if it’s not an activity you’re used to, you may find that your low back complains afterwards. Although this can be very painful and worrying, there is usually no actual damage and it tends to go away within one or two weeks. If back pain does strike, the key thing is to keep moving as often and normally as possible! We also know that stress can make pain worse and so, with travel delays and work disruption, it can help to keep aware of your stress-level, and take steps to reduce this where possible.
3. Sledding shenanigans: Keep active!
It’s a tempting prospect to enter hibernation mode when an Arctic landscape looms from your window; however, the snow can present an opportunity for fitting in even more activity and fun than usual – don’t be afraid to go for a bracing walk, or try sledding with the kids. If all else fails, doing a few squats and star jumps in the house will make sure you keep warm even if the boiler packs in!
Above all - stay safe, stay warm, and remember that spring is just around the corner!
IPRS Health Physiotherapist - Joe Daniels