Insight Neurosurgery – With winter well underway, cold and snow is now a normal part of everyday life in the northern regions of the United States. For winter weather enthusiasts eager to spend as much time outdoors as possible, this is a joyful time of year. Others are probably counting down the days until spring. But one thing we all have in common is the increased risk we face for accidents and injuries brought on by cold weather. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), winter weather is responsible for more than twice as many deaths as summer weather. Slips and falls on icy surfaces are one of the leading causes of injuries each winter, impacting approximately one million Americans annually. Of these injuries, about 17,000 are fatal and many more result in serious spine injuries, concussions, and other life threatening complications. Snow shoveling, winter sports, and automobile accidents are also leading causes of serious injuries. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps anyone can take to stay safe and enjoy an active winter season. The following is a brief guide on when to seek treatment if you experience an accident this winter and six tips for preventing winter head and neck injuries.

When to Seek Medical Treatment for Winter Head and Neck Injuries

Sometimes pain from shoveling snow or a fall can seem like no big deal. But these types of injuries can significantly impact your health and wellbeing if left untreated. If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical treatment as soon as possible:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Seizures

How to Prevent Common Winter Head and Neck Injuries

Keep Walkways Shoveled & Salted

One of the most important steps every household can take to prevent slip and fall injuries this winter is to keep sidewalks, driveways, and other walkways around the home clear from snow and ice. The CDC says nearly one million people are injured annually as a result of falling on ice. These are injuries that are almost always preventable but have major consequences, including head/neck conditions and broken bones. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, walkways should be cleared after every snowfall and treated with a safe ice melt product designed to quickly remove frozen buildup from surfaces.

Shovel Snow Properly

Winter head and neck injuries are not always the result of ice. Shoveling snow can also lead to serious injuries, including heart attacks. A report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that more than 137,000 people were treated for snow shoveling injuries in 2018. Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity that requires repetitive twisting and lifting that puts a lot of strain on the body – particularly in older individuals. Before you begin clearing snow after a storm, remember to choose an appropriate shovel, stay hydrated, take it slow, push rather than lift, and try to shovel throughout the storm while the snowfall is still light and fluffy. It is also important to know your limits and take frequent breaks, especially when snow is heavy.

Choose Safe Footwear

Improper footwear is often one of the most common reasons people slip and fall on icy walkways. Remember to choose slip-resistant boots or shoes with rubber soles and deep treads. Also be sure your footwear fits well, is worn correctly, and that shoelaces are tied securely and not dragging on the ground. The way you walk also plays an important role in preventing falls. Doctors recommend walking like a penguin, which means taking shorter steps at a slower pace to minimize slipping. You should also use handrails when walking on steps or stairs. Finally, always be aware of changing surfaces. Wet pavement can quickly freeze as temperatures drop or you may encounter a slippery patch on an otherwise clear walkway that requires you to suddenly adjust the way you are walking.

Use the Right Gear

From skiing and snowboarding to ice skating and snowmobiling, winter offers many opportunities to get outdoors and have fun. But choosing the wrong equipment can lead to serious injuries and even death. Thoroughly assess your gear each year and periodically throughout the season to ensure it still fits properly and that it is not damaged. Outerwear should be flexible and help you maintain your core body heat while protecting you from cold elements. It should also be highly visible, especially if you are near roadways or out after dark. Additionally, it is a good practice to assess snowblowers, plows, and other heavily used seasonal equipment that could cause potential injuries.

Stretch Before Physical Activity

Stretching and pre-workout exercises are routine for people who play sports or are physically active. But when is the last time you warmed up your muscles before hitting the slopes or a skating rink? Pre-activity warmups are always recommended, but are particularly important in cold weather when muscles are more likely to contract to conserve heat and are prone to injury. A brisk walk, squats, lunges, and shoulder circles are all simple ways to increase blood flow to your muscles and joints, preventing the likelihood of experiencing head, neck, and other serious injuries.

Drive Safely

Automobile accidents are one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries, neck and back pain, and whiplash in the U.S. Although accidents can happen in any season, snow, ice, and limited visibility require us to be extra vigilant when we drive in the winter months. One of the best ways to stay safe while driving this winter is to maintain an adequate following distance between the vehicle ahead of you so you have plenty of time to stop. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have adequate tread, always wear seatbelts and check that child safety seats are properly installed, and assess your headlights, brake lights, and hazard lights to ensure your vehicle is highly visible. If you experience an accident or emergency, remember to stay inside your vehicle and wait for assistance so you are not struck by a passing motorist. Roadside pedestrian accidents are very common, especially on snow covered roads with reduced visibility.

As we enter the peak winter months, it is important to make safety a priority. Choosing the right shoes and gear, shoveling and de-icing walkways, and driving for the conditions are all simple steps we can take to prevent winter head and neck injuries. If an injury or symptoms occur, it is also crucial to know when to seek treatment. For more information about winter head and neck injuries, our services at Insight, or to schedule an appointment with our Neurosurgery team, contact us today.


Q: How Can Older Adults Prevent Winter Injuries?

A: Winter’s harsh conditions affect older adults more than any other age group. However, dressing in layers to stay as warm as possible, staying active and eating healthy, carrying a cellphone or medical alert system, and keeping an emergency kit with necessities for severe weather can all protect seniors from winter illnesses or injuries.

Q: What Should I Do If I Experience a Winter Injury?

A: If you experience a winter injury or symptoms, it is important to stop what you are doing and assess the situation. Minor injuries and soreness usually requires minimal treatment at home. However, if you experience a blow to the head or neck, shortness of breath, or any other life threatening symptoms, see a physician immediately or dial 911.

Q: Who is Most Commonly Affected By Winter Injuries?

A: Anyone can experience an injury caused by winter weather and related activities. However, there are a few groups who are more susceptible than others. Older adults, children, and individuals who have a pre-existing condition or past injuries are all more likely to experience winter injuries.