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Staying safe in winter: avoiding slips and trips

December 23rd 2011

During the colder weather, slips and trips become more common. Dr Annan gives advice on staying safe in winter.

Fewer hours of daylight, slippery pavements due to wet leaves, ice and snow can lead to more accidents happening. Figures released by the North West Public Health Observatory showed a 2000% increase in the number of hospital admissions due to snow-related falls last year, compared to four years ago. In addition, winter falls cost the NHS more than £42 million last year*

This can be particularly dangerous for older people, as a fall can cause a serious injury. A bad fracture, such as the hip may even lead to long-term mobility problems.

Follow these tips to avoid slips and trips this winter:

  • Make sure your wear appropriate footwear – ones with a good tread and low heels
  • Use handrails where you can
  • Take small steps to keep your centre of balance
  • Avoid carrying lots of heavy shopping bags, especially on stairs
  • Walk slowly and never run on icy ground
  • Keep both hands free for balance, not in your pockets
  • Keep your eyes on where you are going
  • If you think an area looks icy, test it first by tapping your foot on it
  • Keep walkways free of rubbish, water and ice
  • Check the weather forecast before you go out – be prepared if it’s icy
  • Grit all driveways and paths regularly when the temperature is low during the winter months
  • Offer to go to the shops for elderly relatives or neighbours
  • If you are feeling unsteady on your feet or experiencing regular falls, you should consult your GP. They will be able to give advice on the possible cause of your falls, for example poor eyesight, effects from certain medications, muscle strength and balance issues. Identifying and treating these problems can decrease your chance of further  falls.

Why osteoporosis makes falls more dangerous

If you suffer from osteoporosis, it is especially important to take care, as falls can be even more dangerous. Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones, causing them to become weak and fragile. As we age, our bone density decreases. Bones are at their strongest in young adulthood, but as we get older, the body becomes less capable of renewing and repairing the bones. This can lead to the bones becoming weaker and therefore increase the risk of fractures and breaks.

Osteoporosis develops slowly over several years and doesn’t usually become apparent until a minor fall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture. However, one sign which can be a warning of the condition is a stooping position in elderly people. This is caused by the weakening of the spine, due to fracturing, which makes it difficult to support the weight of the body. A ‘fragility fracture’ is a break which occurs when the person falls from standing height; healthy bones can normally withstand that impact without breaking. Sufferers of osteoporosis are most prone to breaking wrists, hips or bones in the spine.

Approximately three million people in the UK suffer from the condition.** It is most common amongst post-menopausal women, but can also affect men, younger women and children. The risk of developing osteoporosis is linked to age and family history, however it is possible to decrease your risk of developing the condition by living a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and not drinking excessively can decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis. If you have any chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, COPD, ulcerative colitis or fibromyalgia, consult your GP for advise on preventing osteoporosis.

For more advice on dealing with osteoporosis, visit

* North West Public Health Observatory



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