New Year’s Resolution: sNOw Foot Injuries!
Here in Salt Lake City, we’re used to our fair share of snow and ice! If you factor in the high elevation and the lake effect with occasional stretches where temperatures don’t elevate above freezing, that’s not a surprise.
But while all these elements make Utah something of a paradise for skiers, hikers, and other winter sports and outdoor enthusiasts, they can also make conditions hazardous for people just trying to go through their daily routines.
And regardless of which of the two camps you find yourself in on a given day—rugged outdoor adventurer or shivering commuter—you may be at increased risk of suffering an accidental winter-related foot or ankle injury.
Slips and falls can lead to nasty sprains or even fractures, while constantly damp and cold feet could mean skin irritations, infections, or in the worst-case scenario frostbite.
But that doesn’t mean you should stay shut inside all winter long! We whole-heartedly endorse outdoor exercise in the winter time, whether it’s out on the slopes or just a walk around the block.
We just want to make sure you’re taking the right steps (get it?) to protect your feet and ankles from injury. Here’s how.
Get Yourself A Good Pair of Boots (and Socks)
For snowy and icy conditions, you’re going to need a solid pair of footwear that won’t let you down. That means boots that shut out water, keep you warm, and keep you steady on your feet—all while staying comfortable to wear.
A tall order, but not an impossible one!
Just like any pair of shoes, your winter boots should fit your feet properly and provide solid cushioning and arch support. One additional thing to keep in mind: make sure you’re wearing the right socks when trying them on at the store! You’ll need to make sure the boots will still fit even when you’re wearing your thick winter socks.
Higher collars are a good choice since they provide some lateral ankle support and reduce your risk of slipping and falling (and even if you do, it’s less likely to cause a sprain). You’ll also want a slightly elevated heel, thick soles, and plenty of traction to handle slippery terrain.
And of course, your boots should be toasty warm and insulated from water and cold. This is especially important for people with neuropathy or diabetes since they may not be able to feel how cold or wet their feet really are.
Now, how about those socks?
Everyone’s comfort level is going to be a little bit different, but for the money it’s hard to beat merino wool. Not only is it warm and comfy (not itchy), but it’s great at wicking moisture away from your skin and repelling water from the outside, too.
By contrast, cotton is terrible for outdoor winter socks since they become quickly waterlogged and then cold. Consequentially, your odds of developing athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, or even frostbite increases substantially.
If you need a little more warmth, you can “double up” by wearing your wool socks over a thin “liner” sock made from a moisture-wicking material like polyester or nylon.
Take It Slow in Ice and Snow
This advice doesn’t just apply to driving your car! It’s also important when you’re out walking on potentially slippery surfaces—particularly steps, ramps, near roadways, and other potentially hazardous locations.
In Utah, black ice can be a huge problem since daytime highs in winter are often justwarm enough to start melting the ice that froze overnight. You might not even realize a surface is slippery until you’re already on your way down to the ground.
So, you’re going to have to remember to pay attention and keep it slow and steady! Walk “defensively”: keep your eyes peeled for patches of ice, examine your surroundings, take short and even steps, and be especially careful when navigating stairs or getting in and out of your vehicle.
There are a couple of points we want to make here.
First off, if you’re feeling unsteady on snow and ice (or just in general), you should be working on improving your stability with balance exercises. Balance is a skill that can be improved through practice and discipline—and the best part is you can do it every day from the warm comfort of your home without any special equipment.
Regularly engaging in simple balance exercises like standing on one foot or walking heel to toe can make a big difference for your winter stability. As you get better at these exercises, you might choose to increase the difficulty by closing your eyes or standing on a pillow instead of a hard surface.
(You might not think that simply closing your eyes would make balancing more difficult, but it’s definitely true—your vision provides a critical reference that allows your brain to feel steady!)
The other point we want to discuss a little further is about maintaining fitness generally.
One mistake people often make when starting up a new sport or activity is doing too much, too soon. But if you’re not in the best shape, or you’re not used to the particular sport or activity you’re engaging in, this increases your risk of sustaining an injury.
In the winter cold, you might not necessarily be as quick to realize when you’re over-exerting yourself as you would on a hot summer day. So when you run up the hill with the sled one last time or go for a long winter hike, you might be putting yourself at greater injury risk than you realize.
It’s imported to keep exercising and conditioning yourself all year long, regardless of the weather. And the first time you hit the ski slopes or play any other winter sport during the season, make sure you take it easy at first. Pace yourself. Build up to higher levels of intensity slowly, so your body can adjust.
If You Do Hurt Yourself, Get It Checked Right Away
Even “minor” foot injuries can develop into bigger problems if you don’t seek professional help or don’t allow them to heal properly. A “minor” ankle sprain could lead to chronic instability and pain if it isn’t treated. And a “minor” cut or blister could develop into an infected wound if you have diabetes.
So be proactive and pay a visit to Dr. Mikol Anderson and the team at Anderson Foot & Ankle in Salt Lake City. We provide advanced and effective treatments for all types of foot and ankle injuries, and we can even reduce your risk of future injury by helping you making smart and healthy choices about footwear, exercise, lifestyle habits, and more!
To schedule an appointment with us, please call (801) 269-9939 today.