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Brrrr! Winter Risks and How to Minimize Them



Snow soon? Manhattanite Andrea Kwok ponders the unpredictable NYC weather
Snow soon? Manhattanite Andrea Kwok ponders the unpredictable NYC weather

The Insider:

With the country in a February deep freeze, let’s talk about how to stay safe in the winter.

Andrea Kwok:

Yes, that’s a very timely topic!

The Insider:

What types of winter-related injuries do you most commonly see?

Andrea Kwok:

I see a handful of skiing injuries every season. That might be the most common winter-specific injury. However, I do also see slip and fall injuries related to icy sidewalks and stairs.

The Insider:

What kind of skiing injuries show up in your office?

Andrea Kwok:

Most often knee injuries–ACL and meniscus tears. Sometimes hip injuries. Almost always as a result of skis getting tangled during a fall.

The Insider:

Ouch! Would you have advice for those people who still risk the slopes?

Andrea Kwok:

Make sure your boots fit and that the bindings on your skis function properly. But there are too many variables–ski conditions, and other skiers and snowboarders–that make it hard to eliminate the risk of injury.

The Insider:

What about us chickens who think icy streets are dangerous enough?

Andrea Kwok:

I wouldn’t say chickens! Icy streets pose a danger to everyone, daredevils and cautious folks alike. The tricky thing about ice is that once you lose your footing, it’s very hard to recover. Even the most agile athlete can be easily humbled if they hit a slick patch the wrong way.

The Insider:

Do some people unwisely delay getting help for those kind of falls?

Andrea Kwok:

Not typically. Usually if a fall is bad, we know it. Broken wrists are a common result, but of course the direction you fall and the part that makes contact with the ground dictates the injury

The Insider:

I still see runners outside this time of year!

Andrea Kwok:

Runners are a dedicated bunch, aren’t they? It’s fine if the ground is clear, but I don’t recommend it if there is ice or snow on the roads.

The Insider:

Is there anything people can protect themselves by doing in the snow and ice?

Andrea Kwok:

If the conditions are very slippery, the best thing you can do is stay inside! However, if you need to go out there are a few things you can do while walking on ice to minimize the chance of falling and injuring yourself.

Most importantly go slow and take small shuffling steps. You should not attempt to take a full stride the way you would on dry ground. Also, leaning your body slightly forward will help you avoid your feet flying up in front of you and flipping onto your back.

If you do feel you are losing your balance and have any control over the direction you fall, try to fall to the side with your arms hugged into your chest. Reaching out to break your fall with your hands, while very instinctive, is also the main reason wrist fractures are so common with these types of falls.

Falling to the side will still not feel great, but your wrists and head will likely be protected. Plus, if it’s cold enough to be icy, we are probably bubble wrapped with a few layers of insulation that lessen the direct impact of the fall.

The Insider:

All great suggestions! And snow shoveling?

Andrea Kwok:

Snow shoveling is another risky winter activity. Here in NYC, I think a lot of us apartment dwellers are spared this chore, as the building superintendent is usually responsible for clearing sidewalks. However, any homeowner should be aware of a few things before they start to clear their walkways.

Unfortunately, overexertion while shoveling lands people in the hospital every year, often due to heart attacks. If you have any history of heart disease you should really take your time and take frequent rest breaks. Truly, anyone with a cardiac history should avoid shoveling if possible, but I’m sure there are situations where there is no other option. A history of stroke, heart attack, or uncontrolled high blood pressure are examples of conditions that warrant careful consideration before shoveling.

Recruit help from neighbors if possible to reduce your workload. Aside from cardiac risk, back injury is also common after shoveling.

It is important to bend your knees to get low as you scoop the snow, keeping your back straight and your abdominal muscles engaged to protect your spine. Try to avoid large and forceful twisting motions as you toss the snow out of the way. And again, take breaks and check in with how you’re feeling.

The Insider:

Does health insurance generally pay for physical therapy for recreational injuries like skiing?

Andrea Kwok:

Insurance does not discriminate based on the nature of the injury. If you require medical attention, insurance is meant to cover the services. Every insurance provider and specific plan is different, so depending on what your benefits are you may owe some money out of your own pocket.

The Insider:

Last question: there are dozens of ads on TV about remedies for aches and pains these days. Short of physical therapy, does anything at home work for winter injuries?

Andrea Kwok:

If you have an injury–a broken bone, torn ligament or tendon, a head injury– this requires professional medical attention. If you have a bruise from a minor fall or general muscle soreness from skiing or shoveling, these will resolve with time and you can definitely manage the pain with whatever home remedies you find helpful.

The Insider:

Many thanks. Andrea! Safe sledding!

Andrea Kwok:

My pleasure! Hopefully, this will help keep everyone a little safer out there this winter!

 

Andrea Kwok is the Clinical Director of SPEAR’s West 67th Street location. Andrea earned her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Delaware. During her time there, she completed a graduate assistantship in the Physical Therapy administrative office and served as class secretary. Prior to her graduate studies, Andrea graduated summa cum laude from Rutgers University with a major in exercise science and a minor in Spanish. Andrea was a founding member of the Rutgers club gymnastics team, where she served as team treasurer.


In her professional career, Andrea has experience working with a wide range of orthopedic conditions, inclusive of sports injuries, mechanical pain, neurological pain, and post-operative rehabilitation. She pursues continuing education with a manual focus, intent on refining her ability to address joint, neurodynamic, and soft tissue dysfunction. Andrea is a large proponent of injury prevention and has participated in movement screenings for high school athletes, active adults, and local residents in the community. She is committed to restoring patient strength and function through targeted exercise and movement training.

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