Rosemont, IL – The snow is falling, the temperature is dropping, and it’s time to pull out those skis, sleds and skates!
While winter sports provide a wonderful opportunity to exercise and enjoy the outdoors, these activities also have the potential to cause severe injury if proper safety precautions are not practiced. Common injuries from skiing, skating and sledding include sprains and muscle strains, dislocations and fractures.
More than 440,000 people were treated in hospitals, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms for winter sports-related injuries in 2010, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This includes more than:
- 58,500 ice skating injuries;
- 91,000 injuries from sledding and tobogganing;M
- 144,000 snow skiing injuries; and
- 148,000 snowboard injuries.
“When participating in winter sports, it’s important for participants to know the weather and terrain, to stay alert for changes, and to take a break when feeling pain or fatigue,” said orthopaedic surgeon A. Herbert Alexander, MD. “Before skiing, skating or sledding, make sure you’re dressed appropriately, in good physical shape, know and abide by the rules of the sport in which you’re participating, and seek medical attention immediately if necessary.
“And don’t forget safety equipment, in particular helmets for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and even ice skating,” said Dr. Alexander.
As part of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’(AAOS) on-going Prevent Injuries America!® campaign, the AAOS urges children and adults to consider these additional winter sports injury prevention tips before braving the snow:
- Check the weather for snow and ice conditions prior to heading outdoors. Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature to ensure safety while outdoors. Skiers and snowboarders should make adjustments for icy conditions, deep snow powder, wet snow, and adverse weather conditions.
Dress for the occasion. Wear several layers of light, loose and water- and wind-resistant clothing for warmth and protection. Layering allows you to accommodate your body’s constantly changing temperature.
- Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding. Also, check that all equipment, such as ski and snowboard bindings, is in good working order.
- Skiers and snowboarders should have their boots and bindings adjusted, maintained and tested by a ski shop that follows American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard job practices.
- Never participate alone in a winter sport. If possible, skiers and snowboarders should ski with a partner and stay within sight of each other. If one partner loses the other, stop and wait. Also, make sure someone who is not participating is aware of your plans and probable whereabouts before heading outdoors. Consider carrying a cell phone in case of an emergency.
- Skiers and snowboarders should observe all marked hazard and trail signs, and should never venture into closed areas. You also should respect designated slow skiing and family areas and never ski in the trees alone. Backcountry skiers and boarders should avoid avalanche zones, carry proper safety equipment and ski only with a licensed guide or partner who knows the terrain well.
- Avoid sledding near or on public streets. Sledding should be done only in designated and approved areas where there are no obstacles on the sledding path. Speeding down hills in parks that are not designed for sledding puts you at risk to be hit by cars and trucks, or to slam into parked vehicles, curbs, and fences.
- Sit in a forward-facing position when sledding and steer using your feet or the rope steering handles for better control of the sled.
- Wear a helmet. Children especially should wear a helmet for skiing, snowboarding, sledding and even skating.
- Warm up thoroughly before playing. Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. It’s important that skiers and snowboarders warm up by taking it easy on the first few runs.
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after outdoor activities. Don’t drink alcohol as it can increase your chances of hypothermia. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, especially to avoid altitude sickness when participating in sports at a high elevation.
- Keep in shape and condition muscles before partaking in winter activities. If over the age of 50, it may be wise to have a medical check-up prior to participating in a winter sport.
- Know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating.
- Learn how to fall correctly to avoid injury. Take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially in sports like skiing and snowboarding, to learn how to fall correctly and safely which can reduce the risk of injury. Falling techniques aim to protect your vulnerable body parts.
- If skiing, learn how to properly hold the poles with the strap to avoid “skiers thumb” – tearing an important ligament by falling onto an outstretched thumb.
- Also, don’t fight a fall! Instead, try to break the fall with your arms in a flexible position, landing first on your hands and wrists, letting your elbows bend into the fall, and then rolling onto the back part of your shoulder. A fall onto stiff arms can cause a severe wrist fracture. Also, try to avoid landing with your thumb against the handle of your pole.
- Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee occur frequently in skiing, often when a skier makes a sharp sudden movement or a hard, off-balance landing. Avoiding high-risk ski behavior, maintaining balance and control, and recognizing and responding correctly to dangerous situations, can help alleviate the risk for ACL injury.
- Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you, or anyone with you, is experiencing hypothermia or frostbite. Early frostbite symptoms include: numbness and tingling in you digits, lack of feeling and poor motion.
- Avoid participating in sports when you are in pain or exhausted. Many skiers are injured on the final, “one last run” — if tired, call it a day.
- Follow-up with an orthopaedic surgeon if injured during any winter excursion, especially if pain or discomfort persists.