someone being slid away on a snow stretcher on the mountin

Watching the Olympic athletes twirling on the ice and racing down the snowy slopes can inspire us to get out to participate in our favorite winter sports. Whether it’s skating, sledding, snowboarding, skiing, or ice hockey, no one wants the fun to end with an injury, especially a serious one.

The number one cause of a trip to the emergency room is injury from skiing and snowboarding followed by sledding. Unfortunately, because high speed is involved, many of these injuries are serious.

Common Winter Sports Injuries

  • Dislocated shoulder

Compacted snow and ice are hard surfaces. Shoulder joints have wide mobility so they are more prone to dislocation and associated injuries to the nearby ligaments and muscles.

  • Knee and ankle injuries

The knees do a lot of work as shock absorbers when skiing, skating, or snowboarding, but are also very vulnerable to injury in a fall. Such as:

  • A torn ligament on the back, inside, outside or front of the knee;
  • A torn meniscus, the cartilage between the bones of the knee joint;
  • Fractured kneecap, either on the lower end of the femur (thigh bone) or the upper end of the tibia (calf bone);
  • Knee dislocation, when the bones of the knee joint separate.

A fracture of the Talus bone which is located above the heel bone on the outside of the ankle is a common snowboarding injury.

  • Concussion or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

This may not be the most common winter sport’s injury but children and adults suffer at least 23,500 concussions every year, most while skiing or snowboarding. And head injuries can be life changing–or life ending. Always check for symptoms of brain injury after someone takes a fall:

  • Blurred, clouded vision, or “seeing stars”
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Swelling at the site of the injury
  • Nausea or vomiting

Winter Sports Injury Prevention 

A great many accidents and injuries could be prevented with some good preparation and sensible behavior–not always in ready supply for teens and young adults. Here are some tips:

Use Good Protective Equipment:  HELMETS! #1 priority is protecting your brain. Helmets should be worn for all snow and ice sports including ice skating. People are now realizing the dangers of concussion from falls on ice and helmet use is growing. Any high-quality snow sport helmet will work. Tips for finding the right helmet for you from The Orthopedic Institute of Pennsylvania:

  • Choose a helmet with a strong outer shell and shock absorption layer.

 If you have an old helmet, check it for signs of wear and tear – even a few collisions can do significant damage.

  • Wear a helmet specifically designed for the activity you’re engaging in. A bicycle helmet won’t cut it when skiing or snowboarding.
  • Make sure your helmet fits properly, as an ill-fitting one will be ineffective.
  • Goggles will protect your eyes from injury, while UV sunglasses keep the bright winter sun out of your eyes.

Clothing is Part of Your Safety Equipment:

  • Layer 1: Keep moisture away from your skin with silk or synthetic fiber (like polypropylene) 
  • Layer 2: Good Insulation using fleece or wool 
  • Layer 3: Wind and waterproof jacket and pants. 
  • Head and Face: Fleece or wool hats are the best choice. Sunscreen, sunglasses or goggles. 
  • Hands and Feet: Mittens of synthetic fiber/down with a water repellent shell, wool blend socks

Don’t Go Alone: Just like when you’re in the water, the buddy system is the way to go. If you are alone and get injured or lost in the freezing cold, things can get serious very quickly. Stay close enough to your friend or friends so you can help out if needed, and check on each other to see if someone is getting overly tired or wet and cold.

Take a Lesson: Lessons aren’t just for kids! A qualified instructor can teach you the proper technique that will help you avoid injury – and make you look good. A skiing or snowboarding teacher will show you how to fall more safely–forward not back. 

Take Regular Breaks: Weary muscles, dehydration, and cold can put you at risk for accidents and injury. Make sure kids take a break, warm up inside, and get dry clothes if needed.  

Keep an Eye on the Weather and the Rules: We’ve all read the stories. It was a beautiful day in the mountains and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Check the weather forecasts regularly, winter weather can be dangerously unpredictable. 

  • Read all signs and respect boundary ropes and markers 
  • Avoid crowded areas so you don’t run into someone
  • Don’t listen to headphones!
  • Stay away from trees and rocky areas

Do Your Warmups:  Blood vessels contract and muscles tighten with cold temperatures. Your warmup routine should include:

  • Hamstring and calf stretch  
  • Arm circles, shoulder rotation
  • Torso twists 
  • Squats
  • Jumping jacks or jogging in place

Avoid Weekend Warrior Syndrome: Leaping directly off the couch and onto a mountain can mean you are at risk for fatigue which could lead to falls or poor decisions. You may not be in as good of shape as you think. 

Don’t be tempted to do ski runs or ice skating moves that are beyond your skill level. Many injuries occur when people can’t control their speed or are reaching beyond their abilities. 

Stay Hydrated: When it’s cold, it’s more difficult to notice that we’re sweating and thirsty. Plus, if you’re at any elevation above 3,000 feet, the air is drier and dehydration is more likely. Bring along water and easy snacks to keep blood sugar levels stable.

Know When to Quit: Sometimes it’s hard to call it a day, especially when others are going strong. If you’re are feeling at all exhausted, in any pain, or too cold, it is time to stop. This is what virtually every person in an accident says, “I knew it was time to quit, but I went for it anyway, and now I’ll be in cast for weeks.”

Slow Down, You Guys!

Perhaps not surprisingly, male skiers account for twice as many Emergency Room visits as females, while male snowboarders account for four times more trips to the ER than females.

Those ages 10 to 29 accounted for 64% of winter sports injuries over the past decade. 

It’s exhilarating to be outside in the cold mountain air, speeding down a slope. It’s really difficult to judge when to go for it and when to hold back a little. Just a little caution can extend your season, so you don’t get injured, and do get your money’s worth on the season pass lift tickets.

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