by Joon Nah BScPT
Certified Vestibular Physiotherapist
updated Jan 19, 2024
As a physiotherapist, I encourage my patients to walk as frequently as they can, throughout the year. However, getting out and about in the winter can come with a few hazards. In fact, the National Safety Council highlights slips and falls as one of the leading causes of injury during the colder months of the year. Here is an essential guide and some practical tips for safe winter walking. Some of these are obvious, so I’ve highlighted tips that are useful but you may not have considered.
Use proper footwear
- Wear winter boots that have thicker non-slip soles and plenty of traction. Rubber soles are advisable as they continue to provide grip, even in very cold temperatures
- If you expect to regularly walk on ice, purchase devices to attach to the bottoms of your boots like ice cleats or crampons
- Ensure that your boots fit you properly with your thick winter socks on. Too much wiggle inside your boot means added wiggle where your boot hits the ground
- Spend the extra $ on an insulated boot to keep your feet warm
- Keep your feet dry with waterproof boots
- Avoid footwear with a higher heel as it reduces your ability to balance
Take shorter, wider steps
- You know, walk like a penguin! Little steps, with your feet slightly splayed out to keep your base of support more stable at all times.
- Try to keep your weight closer to your front foot
- Be purposeful with your movements and avoid quick turns or sudden movements.
Keep walkways cleared, salted and shoveled
- Be proactive and keep your regular walking areas like sidewalks, driveways, porches, and entranceways sanded or salted, and shoveled or plowed
- Put a little extra onto your public sidewalk and help your neighbours keep safe too
- Scan these areas for any potential tripping hazards and remove them for the winter season
- Consider a snow removal service as the cost is generally well worth the reduced risk for injury from falls and strain on your back, legs, arms and heart.
Beware of Black Ice
- Black ice is the thin coating of ice that forms over walking surfaces. Because it’s so thin, at a quick glance you’ll only see the walkway underneath the ice, and not the ice itself.
- Bridges, shaded or colder areas and intersections are more prone to black ice
- If visibility is low, assume that black ice is nearby.
- Snow covered sidewalks and driveway can easily hide a patch of black ice. Walk more cautiously through snow accumulations
Rely on handrails and other supports
- Always use the handrails on stairs and ramps, as this surfaces are riskier to traverse. That is why they are built there.
- Move more slowly in these areas
- If none are available, stay close to the sides with your hand in constant contact with the edge
- Walk while focusing around you, looking ahead for any hazards
- Don’t distract yourself with talking, using your smartphone, listening to music through your headphones
Save your walking for daylight
- Obviously the reduced visibility of night come with a much higher risk for your safety
- Keep your exterior home lights on or on a dusk/dawn timer. Better yet, install a motion sensitive light source
- If you need to walk at night, wear something reflective
Plan your route ahead of time
- Stick to the well-traveled paths that have a better likelihood of being cleared of snow and ice
- Avoid the temptation of shortcuts
- If you’re travelling at times or to places that are out of your usual routine, let someone know. Ask someone helpful to ensure your Find My Phone or Find My Device function is enabled. This will allow trusted others to see your location at all times.
- Check the weather forecast earlier and travel at the appropriate time.
Use extra care entering and exiting vehicles
- This is often where slipping and falling happens as you are balancing on one foot while trying to shift your weight from the other foot.
- Use the roof of the car, or doorframe for extra stability
- Look down for any icy patches
A little preventative action can save you from a chronic or serious long-term injury. Unfortunately our physiotherapy clinic treats far too many slips and falls that could have been avoided. Adopt some of these tips and keep walking!
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