Tips for Avoiding Falls on Ice

Sensible footwear and safe walking help avoid injury, says orthopaedic foot and ankle MD

ROSEMONT, Ill. (Jan. 13, 2014) – With much of the country in the grip of a record-breaking winter, the risk of falls is very real. Snowy and icy conditions increase the number of sprains and fractures from falls, but there are things you can do to stay steady and upright when navigating winter sidewalks.
“It’s important that you arrive at your destination safely when walking in winter,” says Paul Peters, MD, an orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist in Dayton, Ohio. “Proper footwear and awareness of where you’re stepping will help you avoid falls and injury.”
Peters and other members of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society offer these key tips for avoiding falls, including: 
  • Wear footwear that provides traction. Soles should be made of a non-slip material such as rubber and offer grooves that will grip walking surfaces. Avoid wearing footwear with smooth soles or heels, as these will slide easily on slick sidewalks or pavement. And don’t assume that athletic shoes, with their grooved soles, will keep you safe on icy streets. Cold-weather boots are your best bet.
  • When out walking, watch for obvious patches of ice as well as “black ice,” an icy glaze that forms when moisture freezes. Black ice is particularly dangerous because you can be fooled into thinking it’s just a wet spot on the sidewalk. If you encounter a patch of ice or suspected black ice, step into snow or grass to gain traction and walk around that area.
  • Take your time! Be sure to give yourself extra time to get where you are going so that you do not have to rush. Adjust your pace and gait when walking in icy areas. Walk with shorter steps and bend your knees slightly so you can more easily maintain your balance. You should feel like you’re shuffling rather than taking normal strides.
In addition, wear heavy socks to add insulation in your cold-weather boots. Change your socks if they become wet and you must remain outdoors. Wet socks and dangerously low temperatures do not mix.
Sometimes slips are unavoidable even when you wear the right footwear and walk slowly. If you fall and hurt a foot or ankle, assess the injury as quickly as possible. See an orthopaedic foot and ankle MD if you notice any of the following: 
  • Pain that persists for more than 72 hours
  • Swelling of one leg or foot that persists for more than 24 hours
  • Pain that increases with exercise or walking
  • Pain at rest or with elevation of the legs
  • Loss of sensation
“When you have an injury, being evaluated and treated early can help lessen the pain and speed your recovery,” says Peters. “Proper treatment of a sprain or fracture can also help avoid long-term problems such as chronic pain and instability.”
To learn more about foot and ankle care, visit FootCareMD, the patient education website of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS). The site features articles on foot and ankle conditions and treatments, as well as a tool to help you look up orthopaedic foot and ankle specialists in your area.
About the AOFAS
The AOFAS promotes quality, ethical and cost-effective patient care through the education, research and training of orthopaedic surgeons and other health care providers. The Society creates public awareness for the prevention and treatment of foot and ankle disorders, provides leadership, and serves as a resource for government and industry as well as the national and international health care communities.​

About Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons are medical doctors (MD and DO) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the foot and ankle. Orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons use medical, physical and rehabilitative methods as well as surgery to treat patients of all ages. Relying on four years of medical school training, five years of post-graduate training and often a fellowship in foot and ankle care, orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons perform reconstructive procedures, treat sports injuries, and manage and treat trauma of the foot and ankle.
Jennifer Hicks
Director of Public Education