Middlesex County

Melting snow melds with ice to up orthopedic risk

HOLLISTON, Mass. — On any given day, even in winter, the Charles River Rail Trail is a popular spot to exercise. But Tuesday, the section running through Holliston was devoid of runners, walkers, even dogs -- as warming temperatures turned portions of it into gray, slippery swampland that was as uninviting to use as it was dangerous.

Across the region, the remains of the blizzard melted across sheets of old snowpack and frozen precipitation to form a layer so treacherous not even a chiropractor could avoid falling.

“And I went and I put my foot down because I had to go grab something. my feet went out from underneath me, went totally inverted and I hit my head,” said Dr. Peter Martone, owner of Atlantis Wellness in Lynnfield. “Two other people that same day, which was yesterday, fell. I saw a girl right in front of my house and then a delivery driver fall right in front of my driveway. It is really slippery out there.”

So slippery that Martone said he already had four patients come in Tuesday with fall-related injuries.

“The thing about falling is, most of the time, when somebody falls, they’re not going to break a bone,” Martone said. “I mean some people will, God forbid. But most of them aren’t.”

Instead, Martone said, falls are usually accompanied, initially, by embarrassment and minimal pain.

“But it’s 24 hours later when you’re going to feel the implications from the fall,” he said. “There’s a delayed onset of muscle soreness. So think about going to the gym. You go to the gym and you workout, you don’t typically feel that pain the day you workout. You feel it the next day. Most of the time when you slip and you fall, you’re going to have some residuals the next day. Maybe some bruising on the hip. Maybe the back might be sore.”

Martone said if the pain or discomfort doesn’t resolve quickly after a fall -- or other symptoms are present, such as continual swelling or dizziness -- a person should seek medical attention.

And in the last few days, apparently many are.

“The volume of orthopedic injuries related to slips and falls on ice has certainly gone up over the past couple of days,” said Andrew Eyre, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “People are coming in with a lot of bumps, bruises -- but also more serious injuries such as broken bones and dislocations.”

Eyre said the extent of the treatment of a broken bone really depends on which bone it is -- and the extent of the break.

“Sometimes if bones are really not well-aligned they have to get put back using surgery and sometimes you need surgery to help keep them there,” he said. “Other bones, where if they’re off by a little bit that’s okay, because your body doesn’t really need them to support the activities that you need to do.”

Some of the more serious injuries that can occur from ‘ice falls’ include breaks to bones in the head and spine -- as well as internal bleeding. But fall prevention is especially important in vulnerable individuals. Eyre said, because broken bones can wind up leading to worse conditions.

“What can be a simple injury can turn into something quite significant,” Eyre said. “If you can’t get out of bed, if you’re in pain and can’t , if you can’t take nice deep breaths that can lead to pneumonia. For other folks that aren’t as mobile that can lead to skin breakdown or infections. And the other thing we think about when people can’t get up and move as much or can’t get out of bed are blood clots in the legs.”

To avoid serious injury, Martone says it’s important to remember two things if you feel yourself falling.

“When you fall you want to be really careful not to fall backwards and hit the back of your head,” Martone said. “So if you know something is slippery, you know, walk sideways. That’s what I was doing because I knew it was slippery.”

Also, Martone says avoid the temptation to brace using a single joint, such as an arm -- because that puts extraordinary pressure on a body structure that might not be able to take it.

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