It was early on a Saturday; my wife and I were enjoying a quiet morning at home. I sat in my recliner and she in hers, making small talk as we decompressed after a busy week. My wife’s dog, Buck, who typically pays scant attention to me unless he thinks I have food, dozed in my lap. It was nice, but these moments seldom last, and today was no exception.
Before long, as if drawn to a disturbance in the Force, Buck’s ears perked up. He ran for the exit, and like the well-trained human, I am—dropped everything to get the door for him. Watching the dog’s tail disappear around the corner, I sensed trouble.
It turns out a family of moose was foraging for apples in our yard. Buck did what all eight-inch tall dogs do when confronting an adversary two-hundred times outside their weight class and decided to give them the what-for. I rushed onto the deck, my bare feet skating on the frosty planks. Before you could say Scooby-doo, my two left feet were fighting a losing battle for traction.
It’s easy to see how this could have gone completely sideways. Fortunately, Buck is highly intelligent (my wife made me say that) and retreated to a safe, but menacing distance. And I remembered an important and hard-won lesson; don’t attempt to arrest a fall by putting an arm down.
The reason I say this—eight months before, in the waning days of winter, I slipped while stepping off the deck of a small utility trailer. Without thinking, I thrust out an arm to arrest my fall and cracked one of the small carpal bones in the base of my wrist. Had I tucked my arms close to my torso, the worst I would have suffered is a skinned elbow. Instead, I reacted without considering consequence and was promptly rewarded with a trip to an orthopedist for x-rays, a diagnosis for a scaphoid fracture, and a cast.
“Among the most common causes of an upper extremity
fracture is a fall on the outstretched hand.”
My recovery lasted about eight-weeks. It included several visits to a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) to ensure the injured joint retained the proper range of motion during healing. Though painful, I consider myself quite fortunate. The diagnosis was a simple fracture and, thankfully, did not require a surgical repair. But others aren’t so lucky. Every year, as winter arrives, and ice and snow become part of our new normal, thousands of people fall and cause serious injury to themselves. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, there were 20,520 workplace slip-and-fall injuries involving ice, sleet, or snow.” (SFM, 2018)
Limiting the risk of falling
The numbers are staggering, and prevention seems an obvious place to start, but what if anything can we do about it? It turns out quite a lot when considering the reasons people slip in the first place. Below are four recommendations worth considering when walking in less than ideal conditions:
- Focus on your footing and take short flat-footed steps.
- Slow down and pay attention.
- Wear proper footwear—avoid flats with no tread.
- When exiting a vehicle or stepping off the curb, place your foot down and not out.
Learning to take a fall
In spite of one’s best effort’s accidents happen, sometimes with painful frequency. Researching this article reminded me of the times my kids fell when growing up. As a parent, our children fall so often; we become inured, seeing them hit the floor, time, and time again. Falling, it seems, is a necessary part of learning how to walk; but falling as a child versus as an adult is monumentally different. The chance of injury from falling grows exponentially with increases in body mass and height of fall. Taken to the extreme, this is why elephants don’t run. In other words, the—bigger—they—are—you know the rest. It’s the literal truth.
In truth, we may not be able to eliminate falls or slips; however, there are ways to reduce your chance of injury when they occur. According to experts, if you sense a fall is inevitable, consider the following course of actions: (Zimmerman, 2017)
- Don’t fight it. Stay loose and bend your knees. Doing this gets you closer to the ground and reduces the distance of the fall.
- Do not attempt to arrest your fall with your hand. Keep your arms near your body or up, with your elbows bent. There’s even a medical term for injuries associated with this habit. FOOSH, it stands for “falling onto an outstretched hand.”
- Try to land on your side or thicker parts of your body.
- Protect your head by tucking your chin to your chest.
Of course, it’s easier to talk about how to avoid injury after having suffered one. Especially true in the case of a FOOSH injury, where the root cause results from an involuntary action of the body attempting to protect itself. The good news is awareness can influence behavior, and as winter approaches, we should keep fall prevention a top priority followed by minimizing injury when a fall occurs. Finally, if you do fall, and are experiencing pain beyond the momentary discomfort of the incident, promptly see a qualified medical professional.
If you were wondering, the only thing shattered on that peaceful Saturday morning was my pride. When I lost my battle with gravity, I took the fall on my side with my arm tucked and bent. I was uninjured, and neither the dog or moose seemed to notice.
When I needed expert advice and treatment following a scaphoid fracture, I saw an Occupational Therapist at Health Quest Therapy. They’re experts in upper extremity rehabilitation, including injuries caused by “falling on an outstretched hand.” If you have questions or concerns, call (907) 376-6363 and schedule your free assessment today.
SFM, Winter slips, and Falls: Avoid common hazards, https://sfmic.com/safety/avoid-winter-slips-and-falls/. Accessed 23 Oct. 2019
Zimmerman, Michael. “Health Conditions & Treatments” The Art of Falling Safely, AARP The Magazine. 2017. www.aarp.org/. Accessed 23 Oct. 2019.