Mental note: When writing a blog on the topic of common accidents, never never never ever search on “accident images” to try to find a cute photo! Eek! So I’m going with the minions. Back to the blog: Here we are, still in the middle of the ski season, and “Whoa! You must be busy,” says everyone at this time of year. Yes, I am very busy, but not just because it’s the ski season. Yes, there always are the skiing injuries, but I would say that more of the work that I have right now is thanks to the ice season, not the ski season. And even the ice season, as busy as it is, is not so much busier than the summer vacation season, which tends to be a season of random, freak accidents, and the holidays, when people are running around like crazy, not looking where they are going.

These three particularly busy times of year have a few themes in common when it comes to injury: People are moving too fast, not paying attention to the surface they are on or concentrating on where they are going. I get it, I’m the first one to be in a wild rush and do things like open kitchen cabinet doors into my head or accidentally slam a door so hard that it bounces back open and bonks me in the face. But seeing the same mechanisms of injury change people’s lives over and over again, year after year, really leads me to believe the proverb that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We cannot and should not live in a bubble to avoid getting hurt, nor should we live in fear. Crazy, unexpected incidents will continue to occur for a variety of reasons, and they may or may not happen to us. But I believe that there are four simple, concrete steps we can take that will prevent at least 80 percent of the most common accidents that cause catastrophic injuries.

  1. Leave the bathroom light on at night. If only I had a dollar for everyone I’ve worked with who got up in the middle of the night and either got disoriented or tripped over something that was out of place like a chair, pair of shoes, laundry basket, etc. A couple of plug in the wall night lights in the hallway and on the stairs are a good idea too, in case you decide to go downstairs in the middle of the night. And it is a good policy to keep a clear path on the floor and stairs to avoid falls.
  2. Do not carry giant armfuls of stuff up and down the stairs. Please keep one hand free, preferably on a railing, and your vision unimpeded when ascending and descending stairs. For God’s sake, do not carry some humongous laundry basket in both arms so that you can’t see your feet or the stairs, and think you will safely navigate by using the Force and stepping out into space. No no no. Please also do not carry a vacuum cleaner with the hose trailing in front of you, across your legs, or luggage with loose shoulder straps dragging on the floor. Take a minute to hook everything together carefully and make an extra trip up and down if necessary. You really will not save that much time by rushing, and the risk is NOT worth it.
  3. Careful on the ice. Ice is unpredictable, and frequently we don’t know it’s there until we’re slipping on it. But here in Vermont, we are aware of days when the conditions may be icier than usual. Just stop and look around for a moment before walking to your car or leaving your car. Does it look icy? If you can, walk on the snow, or the grass, or the sand, or wherever you might find some traction. If you can’t, keep your feet flat on the ice and slowly skate yourself, one foot at a time, to your destination. Do not attempt to speed skate or complete the triple lutz. Take your time. Many people up here wear crampons, or use a product such as Ice Picks or Yak Tracks on their shoes for increased traction during the icy times of the year.
  4. Test the load before you lift! Can we all please agree to just stop it with the heavy lifting right now! I know that something is in your way and annoying you, whether it’s a giant box you need to get to the post office, a mattress you want to get to the dump, or a pool table that you want to turn in a different direction; you have places to be and things to do and you need it moved in order to get on with your day, and it needs to be done right NOW and nobody is helping! Here is the test: If you cannot get very close to the object, pull in your belly button, breathe, and lift it with moderate effort or less, than you are going to have to find a different way to do it. Never, never hold your breath while lifting something—you are just increasing the pressure on your intervertebral discs! You may be able to push the annoying object to its destination. You may be able to work a corner of it at a time onto something that will decrease the friction, like an old sheet, and drag it to its destination. You may have to disassemble it and move it piece by piece, or ship it in 2 boxes instead of one. Or you may be able to get it just far enough that some progress has been made, and wait for someone to help you deal with moving it the rest of the way. There are always professionals who will come to your home to haul away junk. Protect your spine. Please.

Life can get extremely busy, and many of us end up in situations where we have taken on too much and/or overcommitted our time and wear ourselves out. I think that the highest risk times of the day are 1) when we are tired and desperate to get some rest, and 2) when we feel that rising panic that we are going to be late or not get everything done. These are the times when we rush and the accidents happen. No one is perfect. You may be late, or you may not get everything done that you need to get done. Stay alert and focused, think about what you’re doing and where you’re going, breathe, and walk, don’t sprint through your home in a mad rush. Stay safe and healthy, get some rest, and don’t sweat the small stuff. It all will get taken care of eventually.

–Kathleen Doehla, M.S. P.T.