Injury and Prevention of Winter Sports Activities

To hear the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) tell it, winter is great for being in the surgical business!

For example, more than 200,000 people saw a doctor for winter sports injuries over the last year alone.

The good news here is that people are clearly out exercising, getting fit, enjoying the heck out of winter sports. The bad news is that more people are seeking a doctor’s care to treat strains, sprains, fractures, dislocation and breaks associated with winter sports.

Or, in a word – OUCH.

But the point of this blog post isn’t to discourage you from getting out there and making the most of the winter season to get your heart rate up and give your skis, snowboards, hockey sticks and/or ice skates a good workout.

Rather, our goal here is to help you enjoy more of the winter sports you love without getting sidelined due to injury.

Don’t worry – there are plenty of treatments if you do get injuries from winter sports (after all, accidents can happen to the best of us). But ultimately, our goal in sharing this information is to help you avoid getting hurt in the first place.

Read on to learn about the most common injuries from the five most popular winter sports and how to prevent these injuries from happening to you or your family.

General Winter Sports Safety Tips

Before we launch into sport-specific injuries and prevention strategies, here are the top five “best practices” from the AAOS to help you prepare for any winter sports activities.

1. Learn from the pros: a lesson or few can come in handy to help you learn how to fall correctly and work with your body to avoid injuries.

2. Always warm up and rest after: jumping into vigorous activity with cold muscles sets you up for injuries, as does continuing to exercise on exhausted muscles.

3. Hydrate before playing and take water breaks often: dehydration is hard to spot during the winter months and can easily creep up on you.

4. Be sure to get fitted for protective gear and footwear (and always wear them!): an improperly fitting helmet, shoes and gear can cause unnecessary and sometimes severe injury.

5. Layer your clothing to adjust to changing body temperature: most people focus on avoiding frostbite, but it is also possible to overheat even when it is really cold outside!

Skiing: Common Injuries & Prevention Strategies

Ski Magazine states that the three top ski injuries are:

1. Knee strains and sprains.
2. Lower Back and leg ruptures and strains.
3. Fractures to the upper extremities.

The most important preventative action you can take is to control what you can control. What does this mean exactly?

It means you can’t control the weather, hidden pockets of ice or soft snow, wind shear or sudden inclement weather while you are out on the slopes.

It also means you can control your technique, attire and footwear, choice of course with appropriate difficulty level for your ability, ski gear, breath, body health and fitness.

So what can you do to prevent painful skiing injuries that often require lengthy recovery times?

Here are three steps to take to reduce your risk of injury this ski season:

1. Stretch and warm up your muscles before heading out to the slopes.
2. Strengthen your core, gluteal, hamstring, calf and ankle/foot muscles.
3. Practice how to fall safely without relying on your hands/arms/elbows.

Ice Skating: Common Injuries & Prevention Strategies

Ice skating injuries are incredibly common and varied. And yet ice skating continues to be incredibly popular – in fact, did you know it is the most popular Winter Olympic sport in 46 out of 50 states in the U.S.A.?

Fit to Play cites these as three of the most common ice skating injuries:

1. Concussions.
2. Sprains and strains (ankle, hamstring).
3. Fractures.

Ice skating relies equally on strength, flexibility and endurance/stamina. To reduce risk of injury, you need to focus on building up each area equally.

1. Weight training can improve your strength in all the major muscle groups.
2. Cardiovascular exercise can improve endurance/stamina.
3. Studying disciplines such as yoga and tai chi can improve flexibility.

Snowboarding: Common Injuries & Prevention Strategies

According to the Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention (STOP) Sports Injuries Campaign, less than half of snowboarders wear helmets as a matter of course. This is often because snow parks and resorts do not require use of protective gear like helmets.

And yet every year, some snowboarders experience disabling and even deadly head, neck and face injuries.

Since many snowboarders are quite young, parents are also implicated in the high rate of snowboarding injuries during the winter season. It is so important to make sure your child wears their helmet and has sturdy, properly fitting gear and footwear!

STOP lists these as the three most common categories of snowboarding injuries for snowboarders of all ages:

1. ACL ligament injuries.
2. Shoulder/wrist/hand/thumb dislocations, fractures and separations.
3. Spine and head injuries.

As with skiing, there are some aspects that will always be beyond your control. Wind and weather conditions are the two biggest unknowns you will face when you head out with your board. So you must do your best to control everything else to keep yourself safe.

These are the three most important safeguards you can implement to prevent snowboarding injuries:

1. Endurance cardio workouts: treadmill, swimming, elliptical, cycling – these can increase your overall stamina and strengthen your core and lower body.
2. Resistance weight training will help prepare your body for the quick movements your knees and hips will need to make to keep you on-board during turns.
3. Be sure to take your time and stretch all your muscles to fully warm up before heading out on your board.

Sledding: Common Injuries & Prevention Strategies

According to WebMD, more than 20,000 children end up in the emergency room each year for one reason: sledding injuries.

Sledding injuries can be severe not only because sledding itself is risky. But it is not generally viewed as a risky sport, so many participants fail to take adequate safety precautions and wind up injured as a result.

The most common sledding injuries include these:

1. Traumatic brain injuries.
2. Fractures and dislocations.
3. Strains and sprains.

Sledding is another winter sport that will always expose you to some level of weather-related risk. But sledding also exposes you to another difficult-to-control risk that is largely absent in the other sports mentioned here: collisions.

More than half of all sledding injuries can be traced back to collisions, according to MedPage Today. Here, “collisions” refers not only to colliding with other sledders but also to collisions with stationary objects like light poles, trees and vehicles.

Even more worrisome – in young sledders, nearly 10 percent of injuries include some degree of traumatic brain injury. This statistic alone makes sledding potentially the most dangerous of all popular winter sports.

These three tips can help prevent snowboarding injuries:

1. Wear your own (not rented) custom-fitted gear: wearing a custom-fitted helmet and using the right wrist guards, footwear and bindings is critically important to preventing serious injury from falls and collisions.
2. Stretch and warm up: taking time to stretch your muscles (especially hamstrings) and warm up before jumping onto your board is important to prevent injuries to cold muscles.
3. Include cycling, plank/core work, yoga and plyometrics (jump exercises) in your off-board exercise regimen.

Ice Hockey: Common Injuries & Prevention Strategies

Ice hockey can be particularly hard on the body. Collisions are common in this aggressive, full-on contact sport and there is no doubt that hockey puck is a flat-out hazard in its own right.

Current Sports Medicine Reports conducted a multi-year survey of ice hockey injuries and found that these are three of the most commonly treated injuries:

1. Shoulder dislocation or separation.
2. Sprains and strains.
3. Concussion.

All experts agree the number one most important preventative step you can ever take is to wear a custom-fitted helmet, mouth guard and face gear. This equipment protects your head, mouth and brain from concussion and traumatic injury, which can be life-limiting and sometimes fatal.

Wearing the right padding and body gear is also very important to minimize risk of cuts, bruises and lacerations.

But ice hockey also demands a high level of physical fitness on every front – strength, endurance and flexibility.

By maintaining an off-ice fitness regimen that includes strength training, cardiovascular for endurance and muscle lengthening and flexibility exercises such as swimming or yoga, you can better prepare your body for the physical demands of playing ice hockey.

1. Do the right warmups: in particular, stretch out your lower back, hips and groin area to reduce the risk of painful strains and sprains. Jumping jacks, jumping rope, cycling or running in place are all good warmups before ice hockey.
2. Strengthen your hips: focus on core work, lunges and squats to strength glutes and hamstrings and plyometrics for power.
3. Foam rolling is particularly important to break up knots (adhesions) that cause tight muscles in the low back and torso.

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