Reduce risk of accidents and falls this winter

Slips, trips and falls are more common in the UK during the winter months than snow.

Enis Guryel, Trauma and Orthopaedic Consultant at the Montefiore Hospital

But there is much you can do to prevent an accident and to reduce your risk of a bone fracture, says Mr Enis Guryel, Trauma and Orthopaedic Consultant at the Montefiore Hospital in Hove.

Less daylight, fallen leaves and icy conditions can be a recipe for disaster if you are rushing around in the run up to Christmas. Many people escape with a few minor bumps and bruises, but others suffer more serious injuries.

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Figures from the Hospital Episode Statistics for England show there were 2,919 admissions to hospital in 2014/15 because of people falling over on snow or ice. The most common injuries I see in my clinics are fractures of the shoulder, collarbone, wrist and ankle.

Reduce your risk of slipping by:

- Spreading sand or salt on icy surfaces and steps. Don’t make conditions worse by using boiling water as this will create a sheer icy surface.

- Wear shoes or boots with a flat, low heel, slip resistant sole and good tread to help grip the surface.

- Change your pace. A few extra minutes spent walking more slowly in wintry conditions could save you a trip to the A&E department.

- Have your eye sight checked.

- Check your medication (especially cold & flu remedies) as some can affect balance or cause dizziness

Build stronger bones:

If you suffer from osteoporosis, a condition in which bones lose their strength, you are more likely to fracture a bone when falling. One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 are likely to break a bone because of osteoporosis. Often these people will go on to have further fractures from falls. Although building strong bones should start at an early age with a healthy calcium-rich diet, you can still improve your bone strength in later life.

Make sure you exercise regularly to strengthen the bones, whether that’s a round of golf with friends, gardening or walking the dog. Do activities to improve muscle tone which will aid balance. It doesn’t have to be a gym class – carrying groceries or walking up and down the stairs will help. Try activities like yoga or tai chi to help with balance and coordination.

Avoid sitting for long periods. As well as reducing muscle and bone strength, this can make joints feel stiffer and so increase the risk of falls. Get up and go for a stroll around the office or home if you have been sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Stop smoking. It damages bones, and it particularly makes bone loss even worse for women during the menopausal years.

When to seek help:

If you suffer a fall and the pain is unbearable immediately, and you are unable to move your arm or bear weight on your legs, it would be advisable to attend the accident and emergency department for an x-ray. Pain which worsens over the next one to two days is unlikely to be a fracture but could represent a severe soft tissue injury. Initially rest the arm or ankle, apply ice (try a bag of peas wrapped in a towel) and take ibuprofen, with advice from your pharmacist. Elevate the ankle so that the big toe is higher than your nose. If the pain continues after three days, then seek medical advice.

If you suffer a fracture after a fall, then it is advisable to have a bone density scan to check for osteoporosis.

Mr Enis Guryel holds trauma clinics at The Montefiore Hospital, Montefiore Road, Hove. Visit www.themontefiorehospital.co.uk or phone 01273 828 148.