PT Tip of the Month

Injury Prevention when Skiing and Snowboarding

In 2010, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported more than 144,000 skiing related injuries in hospitals, emergency rooms, and doctor's offices alone. An additional 148,000 were noted for injuries related to snowboarding. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of injuries associated with these sports or the proper ways to prevent them from occurring.

 

 

 

 

Common Ski Injuries

There is a wide array of injuries that can occur with snow sports. Knee injuries, however are particularly common. The most frequently reported knee injuries associated with skiing are tears to the anterior cruciate ligament. Shoulder injuries are also prevalent due to the frequency of falls. As riders stretch their arms out to break a fall, dislocations and sprains often occur. Additionally, fractures of the arm or wrist are also possible. Lastly, severe head injuries have also been reported in both skiing and snowboarding. Fortunately, several strategies can be used to reduce risk and prevent these injuries, such as the use of proper equipment, awareness of your experience level, or even taking lessons.

Preparing For Your Day on the Slopes

Stay hydrated and fueled. Research supports that even mild amounts of dehydration can affect physical performance. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after skiing and snowboarding. Since it may also be challenging to stop in the lodge to get food, carrying snacks or energy bars in your jacket pockets is a helpful way to provide your muscles with the nutrients and energy needed to perform.

Warm Up. Muscles that are not prepared for physical activity are more prone to injury. Warming up with a few jumping jacks or a few slow and easy runs will be helpful to prepare your body for more rigorous activity.

Know Your Surroundings. Taking a look at the resort map prior to riding the ski lift is a helpful way to prevent yourself from being stuck at the top of a slope that is too difficult for you. Be aware of your abilities and surroundings to prevent hazardous situations. Watch out for rocks and patches of ice on the trails. Pay attention to changes in the weather forecast, especially for storm warnings or significant temperature changes which can both alter conditions.

Know the Safety Rules. Familiarize yourself with the resort rules and regulations. Do not enter areas that may be closed off due to poor conditions. Also be aware of signs noting areas to stop, merge or yield to other riders on converging slopes.

Use Appropriate Equipment. Wear multiple layers of loose and wind/water resistant clothing for warmth and protection. Having multiple layers handy allows you to adjust according to your body's changing temperature.

Have skis, snowboards, boots, and bindings adjusted at the beginning of the season. Having your equipment tested and maintained will not only prolong the lifespan of your equipment, but also prevent falls and injuries resulting from failure of equipment. Bindings should be properly adjusted for your height and weight which can change each year, particularly for growing kids. If you are renting equipment, do not over state your performance abilities. Binding tension and ski length is also dependent on your skills. Ski shops should follow the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) guidelines.

Wear gear for protection such as helmets and goggles. Helmets are made based on the requirements of the sport they are made for. Riders should not use helmets that are designated as ski helmets. Look for an ASTM sticker on the inside of the helmet to be sure it is certified for skiing and snowboarding. ASTM F2040 is the most common certification for non-motorized recreational snow sports. CE EN1077 is the European certification for alpine skiing and snowboarding. While not likely to be common, it is possible for a helmet to meet the CE EN standards, but not the ASTM standards. Some may be endorsed by both. Keep in mind, the ASTM states, "Although a helmet that meets this specification will help reduce the risk of some types of injuries to the head at slower speeds, the protection is limited." Just because you are wearing a helmet does not mean you are invincible to head injuries.

While on the Slopes

Always ski or snowboard with a partner. Keep in mind staying within sight of each other. If one partner loses the other, stop and wait. This way if an emergency occurs, at least one person is able to contact help.

Recognize when you need to rest. Most injuries occur in the afternoon, after lunch, following a long day out. When fatigue sets in, we are more prone to injury.

Recognize potentially dangerous situations. If you fall, do not attempt to get back up if you are still in motion. If you have been moved severely off balance, do not try to correct. Do not attempt to sit down if you are losing control. These unusual movements can lead to injuries, particularly of the knee when skiing or snowboarding.

Proper Falling Technique

Gravity is heavy and therefore when we are thrown off balance, we will go down quickly. While it may be hard to think about what to do mid fall, getting in the habit of safely braking your falls is helpful to preventing injury. First, keep your arms tucked into your sides with your fists closed to reduce the risk of shoulder dislocation. Absorbing the fall's impact on your forearms will distribute the force. Falling on outstretched arms and hands puts us at a higher risk of wrist fracture. Do not try to sit down mid fall to adjust your trajectory. Causing your upper body to move in a different direct on a fixed foot (in a boot) that is also moving is a common catalyst for knee injuries, particularly ACL ruptures. If you happen to be mid-air, intentionally going off of a jump, or unintentionally, do not land on completely straightened knees. Absorbing the force by bending your knees as you meet the ground will prevent severe strain on joints.

If you or someone you know has sustained an orthopedic injury, sprain or strain related to winter sports and you would like to schedule an evaluation, please call 617-232-PAIN for our Brookline office and 617-325-PAIN for our West Roxbury office.

References:

  1. Westlin NE: Factors contributing to the production of skiing injuries. Orthop Clin North Am, 7:45-49, 1976
  2. Young LR; Oman CM; Crane, H: et al: The etiology of ski injuries: An eight-year study of the skier and his equipment. Orthop Clin North Am, 7:13-29, 1976.
  3. Criqui M.: The epidemiology of skiing injuries. Minn Med 60:877-880. 1977.
  4. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00321. Accessed December 29, 2014.
  5. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: Skiing Helmets-An Evaluations of the Potential to Reduce Head Injury, 1999.

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