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  • Writer's pictureMelissa MacDonald DC

Winter Safety

Updated: Jan 25, 2020

As winter starts to set in here in Minnesota, there are some essential things to consider to remain active and safe. Winter has many hidden dangers in the beautiful white wonderland that it is. And you should be able to stay active safely outdoors throughout the year.

Shoveling… It has to happen

On average in the Twin Cities will receive almost four ft of snow each year, and back home in Michigan will receive approximately 11 ft. During this time the need to shovel will occur. Using the safest method is important because snow can be cumbersome and, if not cleared, can become compressed down and form ice. According to the National Safety Council, there are around 100 deaths each year that are due to shoveling. One of the most common causes of death is sudden cardiac arrest. According to the American Heart Association, the sudden exertion that is required can be too much, and this includes snow blowers. To top off the danger, the cold affects the heart rate and blood pressure. This affects all ages. The cold causes the blood vessel to constrict and increase the pressure. This can lead to stroke or heart attack if the blood clumps together and forms a clot. Ultimately, keeping consistently active can be an essential factor in remaining safe during shoveling.

The National Safety Council Recommends:

- To not shovel after eating

This is due to how our body processes food. It pulls blood away from our arms and legs, which in the cold is exacerbating.

- To not shovel while smoking.

The nicotine causes the capillaries, our smallest blood vessels, to constrict and can lead to increased rates of frostbite and blood clot risk.

- Try to shovel only fresh, powdery snow when it is lighter and requires less effort to shovel. Push the snow instead of trying to lift the snow. If you have to lift use your legs and not your back.

- Try to keep from working too complete exhaustion

- Know the signs of a heart attack and if you start to experience symptoms call 911.

What are the danger temps and how to stay safe in them?

When venturing outside in the cold, there are two concerns we have; frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite can occur when any skin is exposed to cold temperatures. If caught early, there is no danger and it is easily reversible. However, if left for a long time it can lead to amputation of the frostbitten finger or toe. As the skin is being damaged, it will appear white, waxy, or gray and be numb to the touch. DO NOT RUB! There are ice crystals in the tissue that will shatter and cause damage. Slowly rewarm the area without using chemical warmer and only body temperature or water.

There are areas of the body that are more susceptible to frostbite:

- Fingers

- Toes

- Nose

- Checks

- Chin

- Ears

Frostbite is a very focal and local area of cold damage, but when it affects the whole body, it is called hypothermia. This is where the core temperature, which on average is 98.6 F, drops below 95 F. This most easily occurs when submerged in water or exposed to extremely cold temperatures. The first sign that hypothermia is setting in is severe shivering. This shivering is a huge benefit in the short term for keeping warm but will ultimately cause exhaustion. This is incredibly dangerous as falling asleep in the cold weather will most likely lead to death. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and needs to be taken to the hospital for long exposures or if there are any compounding factors.

Driving in the Winter, Be Prepared

We all know that on average we should slow down when snow is on the ground. Along with the risk of the collision itself, the other risk of winter driving is becoming trapped. Also, it is essential to stay on top of vehicle maintenance, such as:

  • Make sure your battery is healthy. In the cold temperatures, it can cause the power to drop

  • Make sure your heating system is in working order

  • Check your tires Change summer tires to winter or make sure the tread on you All-season tires are at least 2/32 in.

  • Check your Tire pressure

  • Check wipers blades and fluid. Make sure the wiper fluid is rated to at least -30F

  • And keep at least a half tank of gas to keep the fuel line from freezing

Once the vehicle is in working order, it is crucial to have a cold-weather kit in the car. The kit is there to keep you warm if you get trapped on the road and have a base list of items, but you can modify it based on your family’s needs.

Emergency Kit:

  • Extra warm clothing

  • Blankets

  • Food

  • Water

  • Flashlight

  • Glass scraper and snow broom

  • Any medications

Such as a portable charger for your phone or extra diapers for little ones. This is in case you get trapped on a roadway. We always hope that it won’t have to be used, but winter weather can get the best of everyone. The best advice is that as the weather gets worse try to avoid going out into it. Check the weather and connect with where you are traveling to and give them an estimated arrival time, so if something happens, help is on its way sooner. But your best option is to only drive in bad weather if you have no choice. And if you have to go out, give yourself extra time, and slow down. This also means you need to increase the space between you and the car you are following.

Moving in this Winter Wonderland of Ice

The picturesque view of winter is beautiful, but many hazards can lead to falls. So how you walk can help prevent injury and bruised egos. The first step to make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear. The sole of the shoe needs to be either rubber or neoprene composite to be the safest. Leather and plastic soles increase the risk of falling as they become slick on snow and ice. When walking, think like a penguin. Take short shuffling steps keeping your center of mass over your feet. Keep your knees soft so you can react if you start to fall. Keep your hands out of your pockets as they might need to be used to catch yourself.

Winter possesses many hazards that weren’t covered here, so be safe. If you sustained an injury in this winter weather come in and get taken care of sooner. This way you don’t end up sidelined and can remain doing all the activities you love and enjoy.

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