FYI, you might be walking on the icy sidewalk by mistake

Ice-covered sidewalks, driveways, or walkways are a real danger. About 800,000 people who slip and fall each year require medical attention, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even if you don’t make it to the hospital, slipping on ice can still be very painful, resulting in scraped knees, bruised elbows, and other ailments.

“These falls happen quite often… 1 in 5 of them actually end in injuries that require treatment,” said Dr. Kariline Bringe, orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “So, if we eliminate those falls, we will eliminate those injuries.”

When it comes to eliminating falls, experts say there’s one tip they want everyone to know when walking in frigid, snowy weather.

To avoid slipping, walk like a penguin.

It may sound funny, but experts say the best way to prevent yourself from slipping on ice is to change your stride.

“It’s called the penguin walk because you look like a penguin when you do this kind of walk,” says Monica Leach, a physical therapist and board-certified clinical specialist in geriatric physical therapy at the Cleveland Clinic.

Here’s how to do a penguin walk as explained by Leach:

“Keep your knees slightly bent so you are in an active position, ready to react if necessary.” “You point your feet slightly outward, your arms extended at your sides to help balance you.” “And you walk (slowly) with flat feet or random steps.” “(You) keep your center of gravity over your feet — so you may want to lean forward a little.”

Random steps like penguins make you more stable.

“I think the big key is slowing down, taking these small steps,” Bringe said.

The reason has a lot to do with friction and gravity. “When it’s cold out there and things get slippery, the bigger your stride, the more force you encounter. This will increase your chances of slipping,” explains Bringe.

In contrast, penguin-like steps – small, slow and shuffling – will reduce the risk of slipping, he said.

“If you slip up, you don’t have much momentum behind it. So it’s less likely that you’ll slip too far,” says Bringe. And with the center of gravity over your feet, it’s less likely that a small slip will turn into a major fall.

With your hands free, you can catch yourself if you end up falling.

Another thing that makes this an efficient way of walking is the fact that your hands are free.

“Your arms are free and able to extend away from your body – it will also help improve balance and reduce the risk of falls,” explains Bringe. “And, if you fall, (it) gives you a chance to get back up before you hit your head.”

Leach stressed that people should keep their hands out of their pockets when walking in the snow. You can’t walk as well as a penguin if your hands are in your pockets; it will affect your ability to balance or react if necessary.

The same goes for phones.

“I think the phone is… an extra piece that has to be dropped now, because we all have phones in our hands,” Bringe said. “We check our email, we text people, we don’t look where we’re walking, we don’t check those surfaces to make sure there’s no ice there… and putting that phone away when conditions are a little more dangerous might be a tip which is also good for avoiding falls.”

In winter, many people encounter slippery paths and sidewalks, which can increase the risk of falls.

by Mark Spowart/Getty Images via Getty Images

In winter, many people encounter slippery paths and sidewalks, which can increase the risk of falls.

Besides walking like a penguin, here are some expert-backed tips for getting outdoors.

“We were very fortunate to get a good prediction from our weather team. We knew things like this would happen,” Bringe said. “So, be prepared – you know it’s going to snow in two days, fill up your car, make a trip to the grocery store so you don’t leave the house unnecessarily… It makes it safer for you and everyone. who needs to be out there.”

If you do have to be outside in the snow and need a walker or cane, make sure you don’t forget one at home, Bringe said.

Additionally, make sure you wear winter shoes that are supportive and have traction. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s important to wear shoes or boots that have “deep-grooved, non-slip rubber treads.”

Leach says you should also be extra aware of your surroundings. It’s important to look up and make sure there’s nothing in front of you ― and also look down from time to time, to make sure you’re not walking on the icy surface.

“I think any dark, wet areas are probably slippery or icy,” Leach said. “Even if you’re not sure, you may want to avoid the area where you walk.”

If there is a clear path that people have already taken, you should walk that path rather than veer off and look for a shortcut. “You don’t want to do that, because you’re not sure what’s under that area,” Leach said.

Overall, an important factor in penguin walking technique is slow walking. So, Leach says, it’s important not to rush. “It’s better to be safe than sorry, so take your time.”

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