Every year, millions of people flock to ski slopes, skating rinks and frozen ponds to enjoy a few hours of skating, sledding, skiing, ice hockey and other winter sports. Along with those great times, though, come common winter sports injuries that could have been prevented with the right safety precautions.
Among the list of reasons people visit the emergency room, sports injuries come in second. According to research compiled by Globelink, approximately 3.8 million people suffered winter sports injuries in 2013 in the United States alone. Millions more suffered in other winter hotspots like Canada and Iceland. Sledding was the most common cause of injury, resulting in 700,000 cases per year, but skiing, ice skating, hockey and snowboarding sent sports enthusiasts to the ER as well.
In many cases, these injuries could have been prevented by following important winter sports safety tips. If you like braving the cold, don’t forget to follow these basic winter sports injury prevention tips. At the very least, you’ll stay healthy so you can have more fun in the snow. Following these tips could even save your life.
Common Winter Sports Injuries
During the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the papers were full of stories about injuries sidelining one athlete after another. Some actually died as a result of their injuries. However, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to get injured while skiing, skating, snowboarding or playing hockey.
Injuries can happen to anyone at any time, whether they’re on the ice or on the slopes. Following skating and skiing injury prevention guidelines is the key to avoiding the most common injuries, such as:
A concussion can occur while playing any sport during any season, including winter. More than 23,500 concussions result from playing winter sports every year, a third of them among children. Most occur while skiing or snowboarding, but it can happen during any sport – anyone who falls while skating or playing hockey could be at risk of a brain injury.
While not as common as other winter sports injuries, concussions are the leading cause of death and disability among skiers and snowboarders. CNN even ran a story about the issue. That’s why it’s so important to check for signs of brain injury when someone takes a fall, including:
- Blurred vision
- Swelling at the site of the injury
When you hit a hard surface like ice, you run the risk of dislocating your shoulder. Because this joint is more mobile than other joints, it’s less stable. As a result, it’s easier to slip it out of place, so a hard hit that wouldn’t affect another joint could affect the shoulder. What’s more, 40 percent of dislocated shoulders have associated injuries to the nearby ligaments or muscles.
Skiers are at greater risk of dislocating a shoulder, but other winter activities can be just as risky. Skaters who fall on the ice or hockey players who run into other players could suffer the same injury. If you or your fellow athlete takes a fall, get help right away. Not only is a dislocated shoulder extremely painful, but putting off medical care for too long could also lead to a frozen, or totally immobile, shoulder.
Although they’re rarely fatal, a back injury can be just as disruptive to your life as a concussion or other head injuries. A sprain or strain in the ligaments or muscles is painful and can keep you off your feet for weeks. A fracture or dislocation, on the other hand, could damage the spinal cord and lead to either partial or full paralysis.
Skiers are especially prone to spinal injuries in the wintertime, especially those on high slopes. However, snowboarding and other high-intensity sports could cause you to hurt your back, so it’s important to treat all those skiing injury prevention tips as if they were written for any winter sport.
Dislocated or Broken Elbow
We usually associate elbow injuries with summer sports like baseball and tennis, but winter athletes suffer from them, too. Elbows aren’t necessarily immune from injury – overuse can lead to sore muscles and damage to the tendons. However, you might end up with a more serious injury if you stretch out your hands to break a fall or keep from crashing into something.
If the impact is severe enough, you could end up with a fracture in the upper or lower arm near the elbow, or a dislocated elbow when the joint is pushed out of its normal position. The signs of both include intense pain, swelling at the elbow and inability to bend or straighten your arm.
Skiing is the only winter sport in which you’re regularly using your hands and wrists. As a result, they’re more prone to injury than they would be if you were skating or sledding. That’s why the most common hand injury – a torn ligament in the thumb – is known as skier’s thumb.
Skier’s thumb is the second-most common injury among skiers, second only to knee sprains. It usually occurs when a skier falls and bends his or her hand back to keep a grip on the ski pole. This causes the ligament in the thumb joint to tear and, in some cases, the phalanx (thumb bone) to fracture. Some falls are so bad that the wrist bends backward as well, causing a fracture or sprain that makes hand movement harder.
The knees absorb most of the shock to the body during everyday activities like walking, so imagine how much shock they have to absorb during an intense winter activity like skiing or skating. Knee injuries are some of the most common winter sports injuries, not just because they can occur in any sport but because there are so many different ways to get hurt.
The knees work hard during the course of normal sports activity and are already prone to the strains and pain that come from overuse. If you fall, however, the chance of injury is even greater, either because you fall right on the knee or bend your leg in such a way that an injury is inevitable. Some of the most common winter sports injuries to the knee include:
- 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.
Ankle Sprains and Fractures
Every day, 25,000 Americans sprain or fracture their ankles. This happens because they trip or fall, try to walk or run on uneven surfaces, or twist or roll their ankles – all the things that can happen when playing winter sports. In fact, these kinds of ankle movements are so common while snowboarding that a fracture of the Talus bone – located above the heel bone on the outside of the ankle – is widely known as snowboarder’s ankle.
Mild sprains need little more than an ice pack and elevation, while fractures usually need a cast and six weeks of healing. In either case, though, it’s important to get treatment right away and stay off your feet. Otherwise, you might develop more serious problems later that make it hard to walk at all.
Winter Sports Safety Tips: Injury Prevention Is the Key to Staying Safe
Injuries are a part of winter sports, but they’re far from inevitable. As many as half of all sports injuries could have been prevented with the right planning and preparation. While getting ready for your day or night out, be sure to follow these invaluable sports injury prevention tips.
Take Regular Breaks: You will also need to watch out closely for your kids. Even if they don’t seem tired, muscle exhaustion will put them at risk and increase the chance of injury. While you’re out enjoying some winter fun, take frequent breaks to hydrate, refuel and recover. This will give overworked muscles a break and allow them to keep going.
Keep an Eye on the Weather: Winter weather can be quite unpredictable. It could be a beautiful, but chilly, sunny day one moment, and the next, you could encounter dangerous conditions. If you have a day of outdoor winter fun planned, check the forecast before you head out. Inclement conditions increase the likelihood of a sports injury.
Don’t Go Alone: When playing winter sports, the most dangerous thing you can do is play them alone. Even solitary sports like skiing and skating carry the risk of a potentially life-threatening injury. If you suffer one, you might not be able to get help on your own. Minimize the risk by bringing someone with you. Stay close enough to one another so you can react quickly if there’s an accident. Check one another for signs of fatigue or confusion. Finally, bring a first aid kit along. The Red Cross has a list of all the things you’ll need to handle any emergency, injury-related or otherwise.
Do Your Warmup Exercises: Your muscles and heart need to be in good shape before any type of physical activity, let alone an intense wintertime activity. Muscles get tighter when the temperature drops, and your blood vessels contract. As a result, you’re more likely to get exhausted or develop a muscle cramp, and that raises the risk of a more serious injury. That’s why warmups should play a big role in your skiing, skating or snowboarding injury prevention plan. Your warmup routine should include:
- Stretching your arms, legs and back
- Arm circles
- Twisting your upper body
- Jumping rope or running in place
Spend more time on these exercises than you normally would – since it’s cold, your muscles are tighter, so they need more time to loosen up. Also, focus on the muscles that will get the most use. For example, work out your arms more when you’re planning to ski or play hockey, or do more leg stretches if you’re skating or snowboarding.
Use Protective Equipment: Most common winter sports injuries can be minimized – or prevented altogether – by wearing reliable protective equipment. The most essential piece is a helmet. Numerous studies have proven their effectiveness in preventing head injuries, which are more likely to be fatal than other types of injuries. Here are some tips to keep in mind when finding the right helmet for you:
- 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.
Don’t forget to buy padding for other body parts, such as arms and legs. Broken bones aren’t the only consequence of winter sports, so finding equipment for other areas of your body is essential to your safety. Goggles will protect your eyes from injury, while UV sunglasses keep the bright winter sun out of your eyes.
Check Your Gear: It’s not just your protective equipment that needs to be properly maintained. Defective gear is an accident waiting to happen. No matter what activity you or your family is participating in, make sure all of your equipment is in good condition without any obvious defects. This includes your skis, snowboard, ice skates, sled and anything else you’re relying on to work properly.
Follow the Proper Technique: Many injuries occur because the skier, skater or snowboarder didn’t have the right form. Maybe his head hung too low or he wasn’t holding his ski pole the right way. Before hitting the slopes or ice, make sure you know what you’re doing.Whatever sport you want to play, spend some time with a qualified instructor before playing. He or she will teach you how to move your body as you go down the hill or move across the field. You’ll also learn how to position your body in the event of a fall. For example, a ski instructor will tell you to fall forward, not backward, to reduce the risk on your limbs.
Professional lessons for children is also an important way to keep your kids from getting injured. The earlier they can learn proper techniques, the more equipped they’ll be for a winter of fun and a future filled with winter sports endeavors. Simple safety tips, like rolling off a sled that won’t stop, will prevent more injuries than you realize.
If you can’t find an expert to help you out, do some research online or in sports magazines to learn the techniques that ensure winter sports safety.
Don’t Push Beyond Your Experience Level: Whether attempting a new slope or trying out a winter sport you’re not familiar with, it’s important to recognize your own limitations. Make sure you stay on runs that are appropriate for your level. Don’t attempt to try snowboarding or ice skating tricks that are beyond your expertise. Many injuries occur because people were unable to control their speed or when something was just beyond their abilities.
But it’s not just your own personal boundaries you should be aware of. It’s essential to follow the rules wherever you’re at, whether it be an ice skating rink or the ski slopes. Boundary ropes are used by ski patrollers to mark unsafe terrain. And sometimes ponds or rinks have posted signs that warn skaters if it’s not currently safe to skate, possibly because of thin ice.
Wear Appropriate Clothing: In the wintertime, we wear heavy coats and other winter apparel to stay warm. When playing winter sports, clothing does more than just keep you warm. On one hand, it has to protect you from sunburn, windburn and frostbite. On the other, it has to be flexible enough to allow you to move freely, because constrictive clothing can actually increase the risk of injury. Keep all of these things in mind when choosing winter sports attire. The best ensemble for outdoor activity includes:
- A shirt and long underwear;
- A long-sleeved shirt or fleece vest;
- A fleece jacket or insulated jacket liner;
- A waterproof outer shell;
- Insulated gloves, ideally with a built-in liner;
- A wool cap or face mask to wear underneath your helmet;
- Wool socks;
- Insulated shoes or boots.
Make sure the clothes are loose-fitting so your movements aren’t constricted. Also, choose breathable and synthetic fabrics for each item. This allows them to release the heat trapped inside and dry more quickly.
Be Familiar With Your Surroundings: If you’re in an unfamiliar environment, it could take you by surprise. Many winter sports injuries occur because someone didn’t anticipate a big tree or rock on the ski slope, or didn’t notice a thin patch of ice during a hockey game. Knowing what’s around you helps you figure out where to go – and which areas to avoid. Pick a familiar spot where you know what the landscape looks like. If this isn’t possible, scan the area beforehand so you know what’s safe and what isn’t. Of course, no environment is completely safe, but there are things you can do to minimize the risk of injury:
- Avoid crowded areas so you don’t run into someone
- Don’t wear headphones
- Stay away from rocks and trees
- Keep scanning the area – you never know when something will appear unexpectedly
Know Your Limits: It can be hard for some people to stop the fun, but this might be one of the most important winter sports safety tips you can follow. Even after following every skiing, skating or snowboarding injury prevention guideline, you could end up feeling exhausted or experiencing pain. In either case, it’s time to stop. You might want to challenge yourself, but it’s not worth putting your health at risk.
Don’t Let an Injury Put Winter Plans on Ice
Sometimes, despite following every prevention tip, you have a bad accident and get hurt. When that happens, the first step is to get help immediately. The second step is to find the best treatment for your injury, like those available at OIP.
We have offices throughout Central Pennsylvania, staffed by specialists who work together to offer minimally invasive treatments for a wide range of orthopedic problems, as well as pain management and rehabilitation to help you get back to your life.
If you get hurt this winter, don’t wait to treat it – call OIP and get the best treatment for your winter sports injury.