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Winter Sports Injury Prevention

21 November 2016

Winter is almost upon us, with it will come the snow and we will be into the winter sports season. Snow sports are great exercise and fun, but they can have a very serious side to them, as can be attested by the injuries to Michael Schumacher.

Skiing versus Snowboarding

The two main winter sports are skiing and snowboarding. They have a reputation of being risky, but the overall injury rate is lower than you may think. It is estimated that there are around three injuries per 1000 skier days. Snowboarders have a higher injury risk, with a reported four to 16 injuries per 1000 snowboarding days.

Snowboarders more commonly get wrist, shoulder and ankle injuries, whilst skiers tend to get knee ligament injuries. Wrist injuries account for 28% of all snowboarding injuries, compared to about 3% of skiing injuries; in contrast around 17% of skiing injuries are Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears, whereas this equates to less than 2% of snowboarding injuries.

Treatment

Most injuries sustained on the slopes are repairable, for example broken bones and torn ACLs. However, there are some injuries that cannot be easily fixed and these are primarily to the head; around one in six accidents are head injuries. Two-thirds of skiers and snowboarders who had been in a collision but were not injured had said they always wore helmets.

Many of the injuries sustained can be treated non-operatively, even if a bone is broken. Certain injuries however are much more likely to require surgical treatment. These include fractures of the long bones, such as the thigh bone and the shin bone, skiers thumb (ligament injury to the base of the thumb) and ACL tears.

Prevention

Around 75% of injuries on the slopes will occur by falling, loss of control or from a jump. Factors which have been linked with accidents include poor fitness, poor selection of terrain and conditions, overestimation of one’s ability and poor maintenance of equipment.

I would suggest following the below principles which will help to minimise injuries in the snow.

  • Stay hydrated - drink plenty of water before, during and after outdoor activities, especially at high altitudes. Avoid drinking alcohol because it can increase the risk for hypothermia
  • Safety - it is vital to wear a helmet at all times, regardless of age or ability, as this can prevent a serious head injury. You should also wear goggles, gloves and padding
  • Preparation - in the month prior to your trip, start a fitness program to build strength, conditioning and endurance. Many gyms have ski circuit classes to help with this. Consider taking lessons, as evidence shows that inexperienced skiers and snowboarders are much more likely to get injured
  • Check equipment – ensure that your kit is working properly. If you are hiring equipment, ensure it is from a reputable supplier. For skiing, make sure the ski bindings are not set too tight or loose for your ability, as the failure of release of ski bindings during twisting is by far the most common cause of ACL tearing.

Finally, have fun and enjoy yourself and when it is over, get ready to do it all again next year.

For more information or to book an appointment with Professor Jari please call 01625 545 036.

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