By Mason Platt
With the winter weather upon us, it’s a great time to head for the hills for some relaxation and exhilaration on the slopes. We’re fortunate to live in a part of the country that offers so many opportunities for outdoor recreation, like skiing and snowboarding. By the end of a day on the mountain, most of us come home with aches that require little more than rest and anti-inflammatory medication, such as Advil or Aleve.
Yet, skiing and snowboarding involve inherent risks and the possibility of serious injury. Lack of training or improper preparation, varied snow conditions and poor judgment can all lead to unexpected injuries.
In my daily orthopedic practice, I focus on helping patients understand their treatment options, both surgical and nonsurgical, and getting them back to their life as quickly as possible. However, it’s far easier to not get injured in the first place.
Here are five common questions about skiing and snowboarding injuries – and some tips to prevent them.
What are the most common skiing and snowboarding injuries?
Some of the most common upper-extremity skiing and snowboarding injuries I see are shoulder dislocations/separations and wrist and thumb injuries and fractures. Common lower-extremity injuries include anterior cruciate ligament injuries, collateral ligament injuries and fractures. More serious spinal injuries and closed head injuries also occur.
Are there any injury trends?
Broken legs have declined more than 95 percent since the 1970s, thanks to improved ski binding boot systems. In recent years, the introduction of shorter skis has led to a 30 percent decrease in serious knee injuries, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
Are injury rates going up or down among skiers and snowboarders?
In the past 10 years, the overall rate of reported alpine ski injuries remained essentially the same – 2.6 reported injuries per 1,000 skier visits. The injury rate for snowboarders is 50 to 70 percent higher than for skiers, according to Dr. Jasper Shealy, who has studied ski-related injuries for more than 30 years.
What about head injuries?
In the past 10 years, head injuries have declined by 50 percent thanks to the increased use of helmets, NSAA said. More than half of all skiers and snowboarders now wear helmets.
What can skiers or snowboarders do to prevent injuries?
Many injuries can be prevented by proper physical preparation, suitable and properly adjusted equipment, and common sense. In many instances, fatigue after a long day on the slopes or poor judgment can be blamed for injuries, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. They offer these tips to prevent injuries:
• Instruction prior to getting on the slopes is important in preventing injuries. Instructors can educate beginners on the importance of a good warmup and cool-down, properly fitted equipment and safe skiing techniques. These same principles hold true for snowboarders. They can also determine at what point it is appropriate for beginners to progress to more advanced levels of terrain.
• Poorly functioning or improperly adjusted equipment is a frequent cause of injuries. Bindings that are too loose or too tight, as well as equipment that is improperly sized or used on improper terrain, can cause injury. Equipment such as helmets can prevent disastrous and even fatal accidents. In terrain parks, wrist guards and elbow and kneepads are also recommended. The use of protective equipment has been associated with a 43 percent decrease in the rate of head, neck, and face injuries.
• Parents play an important role in educating their children about safe skiing and snowboarding practices. They should help their children avoid terrain that is beyond their ability and encourage professional instruction and routine rest breaks with rehydration. It is also important to caution children against improper speeds and the risks of skiing or snowboarding out-of-bounds.
• Most injuries occur after lunch and when fatigued. Be sure to stay adequately hydrated throughout the day and stop to rest every couple of hours. In addition, changing snow and ice conditions can dramatically increase the complexity of terrain quickly. Abiding by the signs and warnings are imperative for your safety and the safety of others.
Dr. Mason Platt is an orthopedic surgeon at MultiCare Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, part of the MultiCare Health System network of hospitals and clinics that includes a primary care clinic in Eatonville.