Beware of Ice! Navigating Minnesota's "Freeze-Thaw" Winter

Posted by The Urgency Room on Friday, February 1, 2019
Updated on: Saturday, February 2, 2019
Keywords: slips falls ice melting frozen sprain broken bone

Minnesota and the Polar Vortex

The polar vortex has brought a lot of attention to Minnesota and other Midwestern states over the last several weeks.  With temps expecting to rise for a few days and then plummet again -it can only mean one thing...   we're entering into a neverending freeze-thaw cycle that is making the threat of ice a daily concern. Check in with schools all over the metro. Many aren’t able to send kids out for recess because its too cold or the playground is covered with ice. You likely notice it walking to your car as patches on the driveway, parking lots and side streets are tough to navigate.


We’re seeing the dangers of ice at The Urgency Room almost daily. Here is a look at the top types of injuries we are seeing related to this dangerous freeze-thaw cycle.


Most Common Fall Injuries

Head injuries

Head injuries are a serious concern with falls. You slip on the ice and your head strikes the ground. The result can be a minor bump or as major as a skull fracture, bleeding in the brain or concussion. These are serious injuries that can lead to ongoing mobility issues, memory problems, cognition problems, and behavioral problems. As a rule, it’s time to see the doctor if you’ve lost consciousness or even suspect the head injury is more than a little bump. Serious symptoms include:


  • Persistent or worsening headache
  • Unusual sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Imbalance or trouble walking
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes

Fractures, sprains, torn tendons and ligaments.

A severe injury in your legs, feet, arms or wrists can have long-term consequences. Fractures and tears can require surgery, and some patients never return to 100 percent. Many of these injuries take months to heal and require physical therapy.

In all but mild cases, your healthcare provider should evaluate the injury and establish a treatment and rehab plan. Meanwhile, rest, ice, compression and elevation (called RICE) will help minimize damage caused by sprains and strains. Start RICE right away after the injury. Do all 4 parts of the RICE treatment at the same time. If you think you have a more serious injury, like a fracture or broken bone, call your healthcare provider right away

Neck, back and spine injuries

A slip and fall – or even catching yourself from slipping and falling – can result in an injury to the spine or the muscles surrounding the spine.  This can be extremely painful.  While strains of the muscles of the neck or back are very common, more serious injuries include fractures of the spine or injuries to the discs, nerves or bones in the back.  Most muscle injuries getter better with time, anti-inflammatories and physical therapy.  However, a slipped disk, broken back, or other injury could lead to chronic pain and possibly the need for surgery.

If you have severe pain, pain that shoots down and arm or leg, numbness or tingling or weakness in the arms or legs, loss of bowl or bladder control.

Broken hips or broken pelvis

This injury is most common in the elderly. For older Minnesotans, the strength and density of their bones may deteriorate making these injuries more common. Advanced age also brings vision and balance problems, as well as other issues that make older Minnesotans more likely to fall.


Preventing Falls

Start with your shoes

High heels, poorly fitting shoes or those with slick soles are almost certain to increase your risk for a fall especially on the many icy patches here in Minnesota during the winter months. Make sure you wear properly fitting sturdy shoes with nonskid soles.

Have you fallen before?

Where did it happen? When did it happen? Was there a railing to grab onto? What was the surface like?

Take a second look at areas where you have fallen before to make sure you’ve done everything you can to prevent it from happening again whether that means putting salt down on the sidewalk or, if inside, would a railing or carpet help?

What medications are you taking?

Make a list of your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements. Your doctor can review your medications for side effects and interactions that may increase your risk of falling.

What health conditions do you have?

Certain eye and ear disorders may increase your risk of falls. Be prepared to discuss your health conditions. Your doctor may evaluate your muscle strength, balance and walking style (gait) as well.

Keep moving

Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention.  With your doctor's OK, consider INSIDE activities such as walking, swimming or tai chi — a gentle exercise that involves slow and graceful dance-like movements.  These exercises reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility.  A strength training program (lifting weights or even body weight exercises) improves balance, muscle strength and bone density. If you have specific areas or pain or weakness, ask your doctor if physical therapy would be beneficial.

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