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Be aware the risk of climbing ladders, HMC surgeon says

11/13/2007

By KALEY LYON

By KALEY LYON

Hays Daily News

As Christmas draws near and the leaves begin to fall, many people are climbing ladders to hang holiday decorations or clear the vegetation out of their gutter.

However, stepping onto that first rung isn't risk-free. According to information from the Hays Orthopaedic Clinic, the number of non-fatal ladder injuries in U.S. emergency rooms has increased by 50 percent from 1990 to 2005.

"Some of the issues to think about are just age-related," said Dr. Robert Bassett, a surgeon with Hays Orthopaedic Clinic. "As you get older, your muscle-fat ratio changes. You get more fat, less muscle -- more pull on gravity and less strength to resist it.

"When you're putting your total body weight on eight or 10 muscles in one lower leg, you're really putting yourself at risk."

Bassett estimated the clinic sees about a dozen patients who receive ladder-related injuries each year, which is a dozen too many, he said.

"We're against ladders," he laughed. "We don't want that to happen."

Another potential danger in ladder climbing is dizzinesss. Climbers only should attempt to ascend when they're feeling completely lucid at ground level, he said.

Furthermore, certain ladder-climbing postures, such as hyper-extension of the neck, can cause dizziness to develop.

A fall from a ladder often results in joint injuries, which also particularly is risky for elderly populations, who already are more at risk for a hip fracture. About 20 percent of this demographic who suffers a broken hip dies within a year of obtaining the injury, Bassett said.

To avoid complications, Bassett recommended holiday decorations be left up all year, and elderly individuals have someone else hang their decorations. But if the lights still need to be hung before the holidays, it's better to do it sooner rather than later. Warm weather is preferable for ladder-climbing, he said.

"Do it on a warm, windless day so you're not shivering and fatigued," Bassett said. "If you have to get on a ladder, do it sooner rather than later because you're less coordinated in really cold weather. Don't wait until Thanksgiving."

Reporter Kaley Lyon can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 138, or by e-mail at klyon@dailynews.net.