Surviving the Winter Months

A post for amputees wearing a prosthetic in the winter. Although there is not much snow on the ground, winter is definitely upon us. Below freezing temperatures, stronger cold winds, wet and icy grounds can pose a challenge for many prosthetic users. Regardless of how experienced you think you are, just like driving your car, you are not immune to some of the risks associated with winter conditions.

Common Issues

Below are some of the common issues prosthetic wearers can expect during the winter months:

  • Slipping, Tripping and Falling. This is not limited to the winter months but the risk is certainly higher. Due to the limited perception of space (or clearance) between your prosthetic and the ground, tripping on accumulated snow or hardened ice is common. Be aware of how you are stepping and your own clearance to avoid tripping on any object.
  • Another one to note is where your prosthetic lands on the ground. Again, with the limited perception of the ground texture (snow or slippery ice), you can easily slip and go out of balance. Wearing a good quality winter or snow boots should help prevent this issue. Check that the heal height is aligned properly with your prosthetist to ensure you will not have difficulty wearing it.
  • Falling safely (or I’d like to sometimes call “Falling gracefully”) is probably one of the things you should consider learning. Your physiotherapist can show you a proper way to fall to minimize any injury that would typically result from a fall.

Being Safe

  • Just like driving, one of the things you should consider to be safe while walking or doing activities in the winter months is preparation. This means planning your route. For example walking to the neighbourhood convenience store, think ahead of areas which may or may not have been plowed or cleared of  snow or ice, and detours you may need to use to get to your destination safely.
  • As mentioned above, wear winter snow boots or shoes that have good traction designed for snow and ice. Choose footwear that have rubber soles instead of leather or plastic materials. Rubber soles provide more traction in snow or ice. You can also check out footwear that have cleats or cleat slip ons if you live in areas that get a larger dumping of snow during the winter.
  • Take extra care when getting in and out of your vehicle. Make sure you have a strong, proper footing before getting up from the seat of you vehicle. Use handrails for support as much as possible. The same goes for stepping up and going down the stairs. It is best move slowly and use handrails for support.  Remember your days during rehab as to which foot is best to step up or down with. Your own physical strength and your centre of gravity will dictate the best approach for you when going up and down the stairs.
  • Take shorter steps instead of long strides. Shorter steps keeps your centre of gravity closer to maintain your stability, while wider steps requires more upper body balance and increases the possibility of slipping.
  • Be prepared for a fall but fall gracefully. Always avoid hitting your head on the ground and extending your arms to brace yourself for the fall. Speak with your physiotherapist about falling properly to minimize injuries.
  • Don’t take short cuts. You may be experienced and confident in your prosthetic wear that you think climbing or walking over snow piles can be a walk in the park. But that is often a fall waiting for a place to happen.
  • And lastly, do your own due diligence in keeping your own surrounding areas safe like porches, balconies, stairs, driveways, sidewalks, walkways, etc.

Don’t let the winter months keep you indoors. Go out there, but be safe. As long as you prepare for it, you can enjoy the season!

Amputee Coalition of Toronto welcomes all amputees in Toronto and the surrounding GTA to join our support group for more information on monthly meetups, upcoming events, and a safe space to share your journey.
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