Springtime is a great time to finally get outdoors and do all of the things you have been holding off during the winter. From the perspective of an orthopedic surgeon, this is a transition period to a level of greater activity which directly correlates with the increase in injuries and emergency room visits. As a hand surgeon that sees this surge in injuries take place around the improved weather conditions, I can give some advice on how to avoid the negative side of the change of seasons.
When spring comes, there are several predictable categories of injury that increase. Children get out on the playground again, and injuries that haven’t been seen all winter suddenly resurface. The summer athletes begin training or start their season, and sports injuries return from winter levels. In adults, the outdoor projects begin as well as outdoor activity and sports. Some of these injuries can be avoided, but there has to be some education on how to best go about it.
In children and adults, making sure that you have the correct protective equipment for the activity you are doing is a very simple but effective way to avoid injury. I see many people starting their small garden and even farmers injuring their hands just by not having protective gloves. As yard work comes back into play, wearing protective goggles while mowing the lawn or cutting branches is a simple way to protect the eyes. Steel toe boots while cutting down a tree can also save a limb. As a hand surgeon, something I see rather commonly is someone who is working in the garden and gets a thorn or splinter into their finger. This can be a simple fix, or this can develop into a big problem. A thorn or a splinter in the hand is a simple thing, but when not properly treated, I have seen these things develop into serious infections, which really can all be avoided with a small amount of precaution.
Children riding their bikes, scooters, and skateboards likewise need protective equipment. They naturally take more risks and are also immortal as far as they can tell. The simplicity of a bike helmet, knee pads, or wrist guards can avoid head injury and fractures and also decrease the injury severity. The problem is that it is generally not “cool” to wear any of these things. My experience was unique because I grew up when wearing bike helmets was really just becoming a standard thing. My father was a pediatrician, and he saw the results of children not wearing their helmets and emphasized the importance to me. Like many children then and now, I was not totally compliant with this. However, during my orthopedic residency, I developed the same view on the issue when I would see children in the ICU after a bump on the head resulting from a fall from their bike.
For children, there’s only so much precaution you can take because by their nature they are going to take risks, but you can ensure that they have the safest environment possible. If they are going to a playground, make sure that it’s a more updated one with a ground surface that can absorb impacts. This can be rubber, wood chips, or sand. Avoiding a hard surface significantly decreases the number of injuries and their severity. In addition, make sure you go to a playground or recreation facility that has good upkeep and new equipment. Degraded equipment is another important source of injury. An example of this would be a rusty swing that breaks leading to a fall from a height—definitely an avoidable situation! There are a lot of elbow and wrist fractures that come about on the playground, usually from a fall onto an outstretched hand. The falls are inevitable, but the environment and equipment should be such that the severity of these accidents is decreased.
Getting outdoors after a long winter is a pleasure. Take the necessary precautions to make sure it’s entirely enjoyable. Having fun and being safe at the same time is possible. However, if you get a sprain or strain, or even worse, a possible fracture, then it’s time to visit OAK, where our team will get you fixed up in short order. Delay of treatment is common but really not justifiable since access to orthopedic care in this community is readily available. Hopefully, an ounce of prevention will keep you injury-free as you transition to greater activity after a winter indoors.
Kermit Muhammad, M.D.