As we face into the first bout of seriously cold winter weather, Accident and Emergency departments are filling up with people who have fallen on ice. Walking outside in this weather can be a frightening experience: in seconds the ground can come up to meet you, leaving you bruised, shaken and, at the worst, injured. The following are useful tips for avoiding serious falls and injuries when walking in icy weather:
If the weather conditions are genuinely dangerous, or if the journey is not absolutely necessary, think twice about attempting it at all.
Wrap up warmly - not just to avoid the cold, but because thick and padded clothing will act as a cushion if you fall. Make sure you wear something reflective, so that you can be seen if you are walking in darkness.
Do not walk on icy ground in leather-soled shoes, or shoes with any kind of smooth sole. Never wear high-heeled shoes; any prominent heel on a shoe is a risk on ice. Wear shoes with rubber, grooved soles, to give your feet a grip on the ice. Hiking boots are good. You can also buy sets of spikes that clip onto the sole of an ordinary shoe. Another way of getting a grip on ice is to put on a pair of old socks over your shoes. A walking stick or trekking pole can be used for added support.
When walking, keep your feet slightly apart and pointed outwards, to balance your weight. Keep your feet flat: lift them straight up and put them straight down, taking short and small steps, and always looking where you're going.
Walk with your back and knees slightly bent, to help your balance.
Don't walk with your hands in your pockets: that makes it harder to balance your weight on the ice. Hold your arms out to the sides for better balance. If you do slip, your hands should be free to save yourself if possible. Carrying heavy bags or loads also unbalances you, so travel light in icy weather.
Never run or jog on ice. A missed bus or train won't cost you half as much as the trip to hospital if - more likely when - you fall headlong. Take everything slowly and carefully, and leave extra time for your journey.
If you see wet, dark areas on pavements, and likewise particularly shiny snow, assume that these are hidden patches of ice. Either avoid them, or take special care. If at all possible, walk on the grass verges of icy or snowy pavements and driveways - especially on hills.
Take special care when getting into or out of cars or other vehicles, and also outside your front door.
When using steps in icy or snowy weather, walk slowly and take short steps. If possible, put both feet on a step before tackling the next one. Use any handrail provided.
When walking on icy or snow-covered streets, stay clear from the edges of buildings because of the danger of falling snow or icicles.
If you do fall, do your best to relax your muscles, and roll sidelong into the direction of the fall. Above all, try to keep your head up, to protect it from hitting the ice.
If you feel you have broken or sprained something in a fall, get hospital treatment at once. Otherwise, after a fall that leaves you with only mild pain and bruising, get as much rest as possible, and put an ice pack on the bruises. Keep the injured part elevated, if it is a limb. Arnica ointment is recommended for bruises.
Lastly, use your new-found skills to walk over to your elderly neighbours, have a chat, and check that they are all right. Making their shopping trip for them, or clearing a path around their house, could spare them the far worse consequences they would face if they suffered a fall in cold weather.