Health & Safety Institute Blog

January 17, 2014

Winter Sports Safety

Winter SportsRecently we’ve been writing on the blog about the dangers of winter weather. While the snow, ice, and cold can certainly be problematic, they also bring some seasonal fun in their wake. Skiing, skating, and other winter recreation activities are popular around the country and their season is underway. 

However, that fun can come with its own inherent risks.

For the downhill crowd, the American College of Sports Medicine spells out most common injuries that skiers can face:

“Falls are an obvious cause of injuries, accounting for approximately 75 to 85 percent of skiing injuries. Collisions with objects including other skiers, account for between 11 and 20 percent, while incidents involving ski lifts contribute between 2 and 9 percent. Studies demonstrate that the majority of injuries are sprains, followed by fractures, lacerations and dislocations.”

Hopefully, our readers who are ski enthusiasts have been doing some preconditioning work to get ready for the season. As the ACSM reminds us, “Attention to preseason conditioning with an emphasis on sport specific exercises will help delay muscle fatigue which often contributes to an injury.”

The ACSM recommends on-going lessons to improve technique, ensuring that your equipment is properly fitted and maintained, and understanding the risks of the sport will all contribute to a safer season on the mountain.

Snowboarder SafetyAnd don’t forget the snowboarders. In a comparison study between skiing and snowboarding injuries, the authors of Snowboarding Injuries: Trends Over Time and Comparisons With Alpine Skiing Injuries” (Am J Sports Med April 2012 vol. 40 no. 4), highlight some differences in types of injuries common to the two sports:

“Injury rates in snowboarders have fluctuated over time but currently remain higher than in skiers. Wrist, shoulder, and ankle injuries are more common among snowboarders, while knee ligament injuries are more common in skiers. Injured snowboarders were significantly younger, less experienced, and more likely to be female than injured skiers or snowboard control participants.” offers some intell about those typical wrist injuries

“Falls are more common during snowboarding. The natural response to a fall is to stretch out a hand to break the fall, and falls tend to occur more often in beginners. For this reason Scaphoid fractures and Colles fractures of the wrist are a relatively common feature, with around 100,000 wrist fractures worldwide among snowboarders each year.

Snowboarders should wear snowboard wrist guards as they significantly reduce the incidence of wrist injuries during falls.”

Also from comes a good reminder to both skiers and boarders:

“Helmets are effective in reducing the incidence of minor concussions during low velocity collisions,” so be sure to put on that skid-lid!

With the Olympics right around the corner, figure skating will soon be back on everyone’s radar, inspiring us to lace up those blades and take a spin on the local ponds or at the neighborhood rink. The STOP Sports Injuries website lays out some risks the sport poses:

    • Ankle sprains and fractures
    • Dislocation of the patella or shoulder
    • ACL and meniscal tears
    • Head injury and concussion
    • Labral tears of the hip
    • Lacerations

In their web post, STOP is focusing on figure skating specifically, but even if you aren’t attempting the triple Salchow, you are still vulnerable to slips and falls on that slick surface. Their common sense recommendations apply to skaters of every ability level:

    • Warm up for 5-10 minutes prior to putting on skates and stepping on the ice.
    • Properly fit and break in boots; adjust skate blades and sharpen appropriately.
    • Perform off-ice conditioning to improve core strength and fitness. 

How can I help? -- Emergency care for swollen, painful, or deformed limb injuries

Early stabilization of an unstable, injured limb can prevent additional injury from occurring.

Bones, muscles, and joints give the body shape, allow movement, and protect vital internal organs. Long bones form the upper and lower parts of each limb. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons attach to the bones, allowing for movement where the bones come together at joints. These bones are the most exposed to external forces and injury.

There are four different types of injuries affecting bones, muscles, and joints. Strains are stretching or tearing injuries to muscles or tendons. Sprains are tearing injuries to ligaments that hold joints together. Dislocations are the separation of bone ends at a joint. Fractures are breaks in bones.

Soft tissue injury to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be become swollen and painful. These types of injuries can be difficult to distinguish from more serious injuries such as fractures or dislocations. Local cooling can help reduce swelling and pain.

Distinguishing an injury to muscle or bone is often difficult. It is best to treat them all as possible fractures. Common signs of these injuries include swelling, pain, and discoloration. The limb may appear deformed and the person may be guarding it by holding it against his or her body.

Unstable bones or joints can damage tissue, muscle, blood vessels, and nerves when moved.

The immediate treatment is to minimize movement and prevent additional injury. Splinting an injured limb can reduce pain and prevent further injury. In general, it is best to rely on EMS personnel to splint, as they have more extensive training, experience, and equipment.

For many injuries, local cooling can help decrease bleeding, swelling, and pain. A plastic bag filled with a mixture of ice and water works best. Place a thin cloth between the bag and skin to prevent cold-related problems. Limit application to 20 minutes or less.

This winter, get out there and have fun, but always put safety first!

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