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What NOT to do for Cold Hands and Seven Other Winter Tips

Winter brings with it a unique set of temptations and hazards that exist only at this time of year: frigid temperatures, ice, snow, and the ever-present allure of outdoor sports like ice skating and sledding.

shoveling safety

Shoveling snow can lead to back strain, falls and heart attacks if not done safely.

Not to mention, about 5,800 people suffered from back injuries in 2007 that were directly related to holiday decorating, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But just because the holidays are over does not mean you're out of the woods yet. In all more than 50,000 Americans wind up with winter-related back injuries, and countless others suffer from other various winter accidents.

What can you do to stay accident-free this winter season? Follow these seven winter safety tips.

1. Shovel Snow With Care ...

Injuries from snow removal are some of the most common winter-related injuries that send people to the emergency room. There's the risk of back strain, slips and falls, and even a heart attack from overexertion.

To shovel snow safely:

  • Use a good shovel

  • Keep your back straight and push the snow, rather than lifting it

  • Pace yourself to avoid overexertion

If you're using a snowblower, use a wooden handle from a broom or a stick to clear out a jam -- do not reach your hand into the shoot.

2. Get in Shape Before Trying Out Winter Sports

If you're out of shape, you're at a greater risk of getting injured while participating in winter sports. Here's what to get in shape BEFORE you hit the slopes (or ice-skating pond):

  • For downhill skiing, strengthen the muscles in your upper leg, quadriceps, and hamstrings

  • For ice-skating, strengthen your ankles, quads and hamstrings along with your calves and muscles in the front of your legs.

  • In general, you should get used to aerobic activity that will strengthen your heart.

3. Stay Warm

Hypothermia and frostbite can occur quickly and without warning when you're outdoors during the winter. Be sure you dress in layers and wear a warm hat, scarf, socks and mittens.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), "Clothing for children should consist of thermal long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, pants, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and a hat. The rule of thumb for older babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions."

winter safety

Remember to drink plenty of water during outdoor activities to prevent getting dehydrated.

4. If You Get Frostbite ...

Frostbitten skin will be pale, cold and have no feeling, and later will change to red and painful before the final stages of white, numb skin when the tissue actually begins to freeze. If you suspect you have frostbite, you should move to a warmer place, remove any jewelry or wet clothing, wrap the area in sterile dressings (separate fingers and toes) and get to an emergency room immediately.

If medical attention is not immediately available, you should follow these steps:

  • Immerse the frostbitten area in warm (NOT hot) water, or apply warm clothes, for 20-30 minutes. This may cause pain, swelling and color changes, and the process is complete when the skin is soft and has regained feeling.

  • Do NOT rub or massage the frostbitten areas.

  • Apply sterile dressings to the areas, separating fingers and toes.

  • Keep the areas as still as possible, and keep them warm to prevent re-freezing. If you cannot keep the areas from re-freezing, it may be better to delay the initial warming process until a safe location can be reached, as re-freezing can case even more severe tissue damage than the initial frostbite.

  • Give the person warm drinks to replace any lost fluids.

5. Stay Hydrated

You can get dehydrated in the winter without even realizing it. Be sure to drink plenty of water during sports or other strenuous activities, like snow shoveling.

6. Wear a Helmet ...

This tip is for kids, and applies during a host of winter sports such as sledding, skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and ice hockey.

7. Know How to Walk on Slippery Surfaces

It's best to avoid sidewalks and stairways that you know are icy, but when it can't be avoided, here's how to minimize your risk of falling:

  • Take short, shuffling steps

  • Walk slowly and flat-footed

  • Bend your knees slightly and stay flexible (not tense) in case you do fall

Recommended Reading

How to Winterize Your Car ... and Your Brain for Winter Driving

12 Tips to Lower Your Heating Bill This Winter

Sources December 21, 2007

American Academy of Pediatrics

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