“Watch Out, It’s Slippery!”

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Summer is a great time to be outdoors, isn’t it? Unless you’re in the Deep South, summer is a time to get back to physical pursuits you may have laid aside during the colder months, be they walking, swimming, playing golf or tennis…

    Unfortunately, the more active you are, the greater your risk of having an accident – and breaking a bone. For those with osteoporosis, the risk of bone fracture, particularly wrist, hip, or back, is greatly increased over that of the general populace. And that risk can increase in summer.

    Still, who wants to sit inside on a beautiful July day?

    Knowledge is power: enjoy a summer of fun by recognizing and preparing for the following warm-weather fracture risks.

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    1) Being outdoors. Simply spending more time outdoors, outside of your carefully fall-proofed home, ups your risk of having an accident and exposing your bones to trauma.

    On the other hand, being outdoors also increases your vitamin D intake, so crucial to calcium absorption. And as I said, who can sit inside when it’s just so darned nice out?

    Keep yourself safe: Pay attention! Enjoy your walk, but don’t daydream.

    •If you’re on pavement, watch for uneven sidewalks, slippery sand or other spills, and loose stones or other debris.

    •On the beach, driftwood or stones hidden in the sand can turn your ankle. And deeper sand can throw you off balance. 

    •In the woods, watch for roots and fallen branches.

    You don’t have to walk with your eyes focused on your feet every second. Just be aware of your surroundings, and cast your glance ahead regularly to assess any potential pitfalls. 

    Finally, don’t expose your skin to more than 15 or 20 minutes of sun without sunscreen. Fifteen minutes of summer sunlight, three or four times a week, is sufficient to “fill your tank” with vitamin D; more than that, you increase your risk of skin cancer.

    2) Gardening. At last! It’s time to get out there and plant annual seeds, thin out rows of feathery green carrots, stake your peonies… even hoeing weeds can feel good after months of cold weather.

    But your garden, with its slippery grass and the potential for underfoot clutter, can be an accident waiting to happen. Keep yourself safe:

    •Use a walking staff early in the morning or in the evening, when dew makes things slippery.

    •Be aware of where your hose is at all times, so that it doesn’t become an inadvertent tripwire – and be sure to coil it up onto its reel at the end of the day.

    •Don’t try to carry too much in your arms; a bag of mulch that obscures your view of the ground can lead to tripping on a paver (or garden gnome!)

    •Use a “garden scoot” or other portable chair, so you can weed comfortably from a sitting position. Bending deeply from the waist for long periods is tough on both back and balance.

    3) Swimming. Whether you’re at pool or beach, swimming can be a dangerous proposition – not the activity itself (though diving can be risky), so much as its surroundings. Keep yourself safe:

  • •Most summer swimming involves children. It’s a great activity for kids – but can be hazardous to older adults when those kids aren’t supervised. Unaware of those around them and excited to be at the pool, they spend a lot of time running – sometimes into you! Pay close attention to kids as they zoom and zigzag towards the water, as they surely won’t be paying any attention to you.

    •While the rough concrete most pool areas are built of provides sure footing, the glazed tiles of the pool itself can be very slippery. Watch yourself around the edge and on stairs leading into the water, where you’ll suddenly find these glazed tiles underfoot.

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    •The footing in ponds is a complete unknown. Tree roots and rocks can trip you; slippery algae can cause a fall. And while a fall in water is usually an easy one, you may find yourself twisting unexpectedly on the way down – not good for spine health! Walk slowly and carefully when you can’t see the bottom, using a staff if necessary.

    •Ocean waves can knock you down unexpectedly; seaweed can tangle around your feet. Even standing in shallow water, if the undertow is strong enough, can cause you to lose your balance and fall. Test the strength of both waves and undertow by entering the water gradually. And be aware of underwater obstacles, which thankfully you’ll be able to see in shallow water, where the combination of a rock and waves is more likely to induce a fall then that same rock in deeper water.

    4) Outdoor sports and hobbies. Bicycling, hiking, tennis, golf, all those warmer-weather pursuits we look forward to, are both enjoyable exercise and potential hazard. Keep yourself safe:

    •Stretch before you play. Swing that golf club gently a few times before whaling away with the driver on the first tee. Warm up with some easy back-and-forth across the net before your tennis doubles match.

    •Choose a smooth path when biking; mountain biking probably isn’t a great idea if your bones are fragile.

    •Hiking is full of potential falls: going uphill and downhill causes balance problems, and of course the path is seldom smooth – rocks and roots are a given. And leaves can be slippery, particularly when wet. You can’t avoid any of these hazards when hiking; the best you can do is be aware of them, and ALWAYS use a walking stick.

    5) Rain. Sure, we all recognize the danger of winter’s ice and snow, but rain (even morning dew) can create slippery situations, too. Keep yourself safe:

    •Do your wooden entry steps become slick when wet? Get a grip by adding asphalt strips to their edges.

    •Be aware of any areas around house or yard that are slippery when wet. These include your lawn, your wooden deck or exposed porch, even a very smooth asphalt driveway. Take extra care when navigating outdoors after (or during) a rainstorm.

    •Handrails can be slippery, too; grabbing a rail only to have your hand unexpectedly slide 6” can throw you off balance. Test railing grips before putting all your weight on them.

  • 6) Outdoor dining. Whether you’re traveling into the countryside for a picnic, or simply eating on the deck, dining outdoors carries a small but still significant risk to your bones. Keep yourself safe:

    •If you’re simply eating on the deck or by the pool, be sensible: while it’s tempting to balance everything on a tray or carry multiple plates at once, you KNOW you’re tempting disaster. While balancing what’s in your arms, you neglect to look at the path ahead of you. Ask for help, or carry only as much at a time as you can manage easily, while still being able to watch where you’re going.

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    •This seems like a no-brainer, but use sufficiently thick potholders that the hot dish you’re carrying doesn’t start to hurt your hands halfway across the yard. You KNOW what’ll happen if your hands start to burn – you’ll try to run to your destination. And trip on your son’s baseball bat, hidden in the grass. Use a potholder AND a folded towel, and don’t hurry!

    •Picnicking – choose a spot that’s not overly difficult to reach. That rocky ledge overlooking the waterfall has a great view, but check out the steep path you’ll need to climb to get there – with your hands full of cooler, basket, and thermos. Maybe that picnic table under the tree, beside the brook, will be just as pleasant.

    7) Travel. Exploring someplace unfamiliar – or even a favorite haunt, seldom visited – comes with new and unknown (or forgotten) challenges to your mobility. Keep yourself safe:

    •If you’re traveling someplace new, read up on it ahead of time. Going to the Grand Canyon? What’s the path to the edge like? Is it steep, paved, rocky…? How about that boat tour of the Wisconsin Dells? Do you sit, or stand? Is the boat crowded? How do you board? The Internet is a great way to check out your trip, visually, before going. Simply Google your destination, and see what comes up.

    •Heading back to a long-time summer vacation spot? Think back to last year, and any challenges you faced. Perhaps you put your foot through a rotted wooden board in the lakeside dock. Or the pavers through the grass proved slippery when wet. Or (slippery) sand has started to obscure the asphalt path through the dunes. In this case, simple awareness is your best prevention.
    8) Spills. As in that puddle of melted ice cream at the Dairy Twirl, the sheen of soapy water left on the driveway after the Saturday car wash, or the oily spot on the road as you take your morning walk. Keep yourself safe:

    •Any ice cream stand or fast food joint with an outdoor dining area is bound to have SOME food on the ground, no matter how careful the establishment is to keep things picked up. Believe it or not, a single greasy French fry can send you flying! Watch your step.

    •Ask whoever’s washing the car to hose down the driveway thoroughly afterwards. Most car washers love playing with the hose anyway; adding this simple task will be easy for them.

    •Remember, any liquid underfoot, from a rain puddle to a jar of broken jam on the tile floor at the supermarket, is a potential hazard. Again, awareness is your best prevention; always watch where you’re stepping.

  • 9) Summer shoes. Odd as it seems, a simple change in shoes can greatly affect your balance. And summer shoes are much less likely to have sturdy treads on the bottom. Keep yourself safe:

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    •If you’re wearing sandals, a pair that fastens in the back might be better than slip-ons, which can slip off and trip you up.

    •Perhaps your only pair of heels are those lovely tall sandals you wear to summer weddings. Heels require good balance. If you don’t have it, go for pretty flats.

    •We all love those colorful rubber shoes, but they can be flat-out dangerous on wet surfaces, especially older pairs whose tread have worn away. If it’s raining, trade the rubber shoes for something with a better grip.

    •Flip-flops. Casual, fun, easy… a fall waiting to happen. If you just can’t give ’em up, at least remain aware that you’ve got them on; tread carefully, and never try to run.

    10) Alcohol. It’s oh-so-tempting to have just one more beer, or another icy margarita, isn’t it? Keep yourself safe:

    •Don’t over-indulge. To paraphrase those Nike ads, just DON’T do it.

    •If you DO overindulge, quietly ask someone to lend a hand – literally – as you make your way into the house, or to your car. Too much alcohol impairs both your balance, and your good judgment. Yes, you DO need help; take it.

    •Absolutely don’t drive. Auto accidents are a leading cause of fracture; driving “over the limit” greatly increases your risk of an accident. And you might not be the only one hurt – or killed. Drinking? No driving.

    Summer can be the best time of the year – especially if you stay aware of its potential pitfalls. Now go out and have some fun!

Published On: July 08, 2010