The Penguin Shuffle

February 02, 2016

In the winter months, the Emergency Departments of hospitals see their fair share of injuries from falls on ice or snow. However, there are many strategies you can take to decrease your chances of being one of their visitors. Strategies start with this assumption: In cold temperatures, approach walking with caution and assume that all wet, dark areas on pavements are slippery and icy.  Other strategies build upon the first one.

  • Because pavements may be slippery or icy, during bad weather, avoid boots or shoes with smooth soles and heels. Instead, wear shoes or boots that provide traction on snow and ice. Ice grippers can be purchased and attached to shoes, but remember to take them off inside because they can be very slippery and cause damage to floors.
  • Many people have gone “boom” when getting in or out of a car on slippery surfaces. When you are entering or exiting your car, use the vehicle for support. It is the shift in your weight that causes the fall.
  • Try to walk in designated walkways as much as possible. Taking shortcuts over snow piles and other frozen areas can be hazardous. Keep an eye out on the ground as you walk. Assume: slippery!
  • Many safety resources suggest you learn to walk like a penguin. This is how you do it: Point your feet out slightly like a penguin! Spreading your feet out slightly while walking on ice increases your center of gravity. Bend slightly at the waist and keep your knees loose. Walk flat-footed with your center of gravity directly over the feet as much as possible. Extend your arms out to your sides

       to maintain balance. This also helps to keep your center of gravity over your feet. Hands in pockets

       interfere with keeping your center of gravity aligned.   Watch where you are stepping and go slowly,

      taking short steps or shuffles for stability. (This might resemble how a penguin waddles.)

  • When walking on stairs, use hand rails where available.
  • Warm clothing is important for protecting yourself against harsh winter weather. In addition, wearing a heavy, bulky coat can help cushion you if you should fall. Do not carry sharp objects that could stab you in a fall.
  • If you do fall, try to stay relaxed and fall limply, rather than tensed up. Try not to break your fall with your hand or elbow. This might result in a fracture. 

Many winter falls can be prevented by following the above advice. “Black ice” or ice that is not visible to the eye presents the most challenging winter walking (and driving.) When walking in winter, pay attention to your steps. For a demonstration, visit the University of Utah’s website and watch their video!  (Sources for the tips on safe walking came from :  IWIF Workers Compensation Insurance now known as Chesapeake Employers Insurance; Boston.com;  and The Washington Post.) District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) who do not have access to the internet can call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528, for a written packet of information.