Matt Wettstein, DPM
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Experienced podiatrist specializing in all foot care including wound care and sports medicine in Twin Falls.

You know how it feels. One moment, your feet are right beneath you; the next, they’re not.

A slip and fall can happen just about anywhere, but winter tends to be the prime season for sliding into disaster. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 saw a recorded 34,860 workplace slip and fall injuries that involved ice, sleet, or snow.

The above figure only counts slips on the job, and only slips leading to one or more days of missed work to recover. Add every time someone has slipped going out to fetch the mail or gone tail over tea kettle in a parking lot, and the numbers get much, much higher.

A sudden fall can quickly ruin anyone’s day. Hopefully, the only injury that results is to one’s pride, but worse does happen. For the feet, it can mean an ankle sprain or even a fracture—and the rest of us aren’t that safe, either. Wrist fractures, back injuries, head trauma; the unpleasant list goes on.

It’s impossible to avoid slipping every time (that might take rewriting the laws of physics). However, there are plenty of precautions you can take to lower your risks of doing so.

Picture of a woman falling | Twin Falls Experienced Podiatrist

Preventing Slip and Fall Foot Injuries

1. Have the Right Footwear

Your shoes and boots are what you’re putting your full weight upon when you move. You want that spot where your footwear meets the ground to have as much grip and friction as you need to stay upright.

Rubber is a great material to have on your outsole when conditions may be slippery. You also want to have good treads as well. Look for nubs and crevices; a flat underside to your shoes is just asking for your feet to slide out from under you.

Also try to avoid leather when possible, and keep your shoes flat. Heels focus more of your weight on certain points, and that increase in pressure increases the risk of overcoming the friction holding your heel in place.

But what if you need to wear certain shoes, such as running shoes, work shoes, or custom-made footwear to serve specific needs?

In cases when you need to add traction to footwear that is less than optimal for the situation, consider buying some removable traction aids. These tend to slip over your existing shoes and add friction via small spikes or nodules. A couple words of warning, though: do not wear them on bare pavement or hard surfaces (you will wear them down) and definitely remove them before entering the house!

2. Watch Your Walk

Different situations call for different approaches. That includes the way you approach an icy patch that’s in your way.

The way we walk involves the shifting of weight and our legs. When we walk normally, we will extend one leg out in front of the other, hit the ground with our heel and push off with the toes. This causes our weight to be consistently shifting and divided over a fair amount of space, on two legs that are extended at angles against the ground.

It’s a great way to get around on easy land, but much riskier on ice!

If you’re approaching a stretch of ice or other slippery-looking lane, it will help to both reduce the shifting of your weight and keep as much of your weight focused on your center of gravity of possible.

Do you know who’s a really good role model for this? Penguins!

You don’t have to necessarily “waddle” like a penguin, but keeping your steps short and tight will help keep your weight centered well. Always keep your center of gravity over your front leg as you move, and keep your feet relatively flatter without shuffling along the ice.Picture of a penguin falling on ice | Twin Falls Experienced Podiatrist

3. Improve Your Balance

Do you remember those car commercials that feature traction control systems? The ones that say they “move power from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip”?

Our bodies have a system that’s somewhat like that! Our nervous system is consistently monitoring where our body’s position is and what forces may be acting upon it. The scientific term for it is proprioception.

When our bodies sense we are in danger of falling, orders go out immediately in an attempt to fire muscles in ways that will stabilize us. Is this system perfect? No, but it can be improved with practice.

Simple balance exercises, yoga, and tai chi are several good ways to develop your proprioception. These forms of exercise help you focus on your positioning and build the muscles your body uses to maintain balance.

To help yourself stay upright, however, you often need more than just your legs. Your arms are go-to tools for shifting your weight quickly when needed.

What does this mean when you’re traveling tricky roadways? Keep your arms ready! Don’t stuff your hands into your pockets, and don’t overload yourself with bags when heading to your door. Several safe trips will feel a lot better than a single hazardous one.

4. Use What You’ve Got

Don’t be afraid to use support whenever necessary.

Handrails exist for a reason! When getting out of your car, test the ground with your feet first then use the car for support as you exit.

If you have the choice between walking on glare ice or packed snow, always go for the snow instead. Don’t be afraid to take alternate routes if the one you had initially planned looks terrible.

Overall, the best thing you can give yourself to avoid falls is time. Time to review your surroundings. Time to slow things down and not rush into danger. Time to take a longer route, if needed.

5. Get Yourself Back Up

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, accidents will still happen. If you’ve suffered a fall that has left consistent pain in your foot or ankle, Advanced Foot & Ankle in Twin Falls and Burley can help. If you are concerned about fall risks for a loved one, we can provide advice for you on that as well.

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