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Published on January 27, 2020

woman laughing slipped on ice

Walk Like a Penguin and Other Tips to Avoid Winter Slips

Don’t underestimate the snow, slush and ice beneath your feet. Every winter the number of injuries that come from falls increases by more than 10 times, and those spills can happen to anyone.

Avera Physical Therapist Phil Moe, who serves as the Avera Therapy Outpatient Manager, said it’s easy to overlook a change in conditions that quickly occurs as we get some snow, freezing rain or a drop in temperature. And sometimes we just don’t think before we start walking.

“Many slips and falls happen on surfaces folks imagine are just fine – they will not fall – and that is when it catches us off guard,” he said. “It’s never a bad idea to review some of the basics. Just like driving safely, walking without falling can happen if we give it a little thought before getting under way.”

Walk slowly and point your toes out slightly, taking small steps. This approach is sometimes called the “penguin walk” because when you do it, you do look a bit like those flightless birds that live mostly in worlds of snow and ice. Like a penguin, keep your head up and don’t lean forward too much. Keep your hands out of your pockets, too, because this will help you keep your balance.

“You rarely see penguins slip and fall, because they apply the rules of balance,” Phil said. “Keep your feet flat and take small steps. Even if it means hauling around a second pair of shoes, make sure you have some with good traction. If that helps you avoid an injury, it’s certainly worth the extra fuss to have one pair for slippery walks and another to change into for the rest of your day.”

Just like a winter’s drive, when you allow yourself more time to walk from place to place you’ll be safer. We all make more mistakes when we are hurrying. He said stay off your phone – walking and texting is never smart – and avoid shortcuts because you’ll easily venture into slicker areas.

“Look for the sand or salt on the sidewalk and follow those paths – it’s usually when we make our own trail that we slip. Make a point to grab those handrails on stairs as well,” he said. “Remember, black ice forms on paths and walkways, just like on roads, and it’s tricky to see. So pay attention and use that penguin walk to help you.”

Remember, you can fall anywhere, not just on a slick ramp or sidewalk.  “Many falling injuries occur as folks hop out of their vehicle, so make a point to pause and inspect that ground so you don’t stand up and take a tumble,” said Phil. “And when you go from snowy sidewalk to another surface, be especially careful, because wet feet lose traction on many surfaces. Slow down and be safe.”

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