Winter is a season to be merry, and also, to be careful of falls. As you well have experienced or are experiencing these past few weeks, there is snow and ice in the city areas of Jeju, not to mention in the “higher” areas closer to Mt. Halla. (It is snowing heavily as I write this column from my study. The cars outside — very few — are literally crawling their way up and down the roads.)
It is a reported fact that almost 80 to 90 percent of hip fractures and femur neck fractures happen in the winter time. These fractures definitely affect the elderly population more. Although the incidence of falls may be widespread, the more fatal falls tend to come from the older age group.
But If you think this is a problem for only the elderly, think again. Active younger generations, or people in their 30’s or 40’s, have a great risk of falls and injuries due to participation in winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding or more commonly in Jeju, snow sledging.
Individuals vary, and there are differences between the two sexes, but normally it is believed that bone density decreases from the age of 35. It declines at a greater speed in women who have gone through menopause and are not undergoing hormone replacement. If a resultant osteoporotic change is observed in the bones, a simple fall may end in, well, a simple fall, or in a more catastrophic case, a hip fracture, femur fracture, or in a somewhat milder case, a Colles’ fracture — a fracture to the wrist.
Quite often, a simple fall leads to aching at the location of impact. If the pain is not too severe and there is no swelling or bruising, you have little to worry about. The aching will disappear in one or two weeks, tops.
In the following cases you definitely must go see a doctor for a close examination. 1. You have ongoing pain (moderate to severe) a couple of days after the fall. 2. There is a bruising (bluish or purple) to the impact site. 3. You have a visible swelling and when pressed there is pain.
In cases of an actual fracture, you will have to have a cast/plaster or surgery depending on the degree of injury. In most cases it will be just a simple sprain. Resting, massage, and physical therapy to the sprained site will do a lot of help if done effectively.
Written down, it might sound trivial, not a thing to worry too much about, or in fact something that will just go away as time goes by. However, patients with a hip fracture have an increased mortality rate of up to 20 percent approximately. This jumps to nearly 40 percent among the elderly. Due to immobilization or absolute rest stemming from injury, the injured person has greater risk of pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, and deconditioning, which are all quite serious.
So, here’s the bottom line. Best that you keep your bones healthy and strong. If it is slippery out and there is a lot of ice and snow, feel free to relax and have a cup of nice warm coffee at home. If you really must get out, wear proper footwear. No heels, no slippers. Footwear that has good grip is a must. If it is cold out, wear gloves. Sticking your hands in your pockets is a no-no. You need to constantly keep in balance.
If you managed to fall outside, when you get home, undress, stand in front of the mirror, and look for any external or internal wounds or bruising. If there are any of the signs mentioned above, go to a clinic or an emergency room and get professional consultation in the following couple of days.
Have a safe winter, please. Thanks.
Doctor Jay graduated from Korea University medical school and trained at the Korea University Medical School Hospital. He is currently chief executive of Everspring Hospital in Jeju. If you have any questions concerning health matters, ask Dr Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org
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