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Staying safe on the ski slopes: How to prevent injury

Dr. Mark Galland Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina

Winter has arrived and its time to hit the slopes! If you’re gearing up for a weekend of skiing or snowboarding, keep in mind that staying safe is just as important – and necessary to – having fun outdoors this season. Even the most experienced winter athletes are at risk for orthopedic injuries while skiing or snowboarding, so keep the following tips in mind when you’re enjoying that freshly-packed powder.


Do

Do be aware of the injuries common to skiers and snowboarders

There are two types of injuries associated with winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding – traumatic and deconditioning injuries. Traumatic injuries are caused by accidents while participating in sports, and can include ACL, hand and thumb injuries for skiers, and ankle and wrist injuries for snowboarders. General fractures in the upper and lower extremities are also common for people participating in these sports. The other type of injury involves deconditioning - attempting what they are not ready for physically. This is due to lack of appropriate flexibility and can result in lower back and knee injuries, muscle sprains, and various aches and pains.

Do maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle year-round

One of the best ways to make sure that you don’t get injured while participating in winter sports is to maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle year-round. This means regular exercise and conditioning that will get you into the best shape for skiing and snowboarding. Pilates, yoga, and CrossFit are all great examples of conditioning exercises that can help prevent deconditioning injuries. Just find a reputable gym, and possibly even seek the help of a trainer who is familiar with winter sports.

Do participate in proper conditioning prior to hitting the slopes

While regular exercise is important, make sure you are doing the right kinds of exercises. Proper conditioning for skiing and snowboarding includes exercise regimens like the ones mentioned above, as well as others that help increase your core strength and flexibility. Remember, your whole body will be in motion on the slopes, and you want to make sure that you have the strength to make all of those jumps, twists, and turns without hurting yourself.

Do always wear the right protective gear

One of the most important factors in protecting yourself from traumatic and deconditioning injuries is wearing the proper protective gear. The importance of always wearing a helmet cannot be overstated. Snowboarders should wear wrist guards, knee, and elbow pads, especially those new to the sport. Skiers should have bindings that are appropriately set for their weight, height, and ability level. You may even want to consider body armor for the chest and back. Some gear (such as helmets) is absolutely necessary, but consider wearing as much as you are comfortable for maximum protection.

Do properly care for an injury should it occur

You may be properly conditioned and wearing all the right protective gear, but sometimes accidents happen and it is important to know what to do in these situations. Your doctor and orthopedic specialist can diagnose an injury and make recommendations for a treatment regimen. Sprains and strains, for example, should be cared for following the standard RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) protocol. The better you care for your injuries, the quicker you’ll be able to get back out on the slopes.


Don't

Do not neglect your surroundings

One of the most important aspects of avoiding injury while skiing or snowboarding is situational awareness. You must be acutely aware of your surroundings at all time in order to avoid injury to yourself and to others. Know who is uphill of you on the slopes and how fast they are moving, and be aware of any downhill obstructions that may lie in your path. This way, you will know where and how to move to avoid any accidents.

Do not ignore the severity of your injury if one occurs

Just because you think an injury may not be serious does not mitigate the severity of the injury. Don’t overreact, but don’t try to get up and shake it off before you have taken stock of your situation. If you have what may be a potentially traumatic (or even a deconditioning) injury, don’t be afraid to have someone help you out. If you ignore the severity of your injury, you could end up hurting yourself even worse than you originally thought.

Do not work out if you are still hurting

There is a reason your body is in pain after an injury, so don’t push yourself to get back in the gym if you are not ready. Rest is a huge part of recovery, and too little rest will exacerbate your situation and prevent you from hitting the gym and the slopes even longer. Be sure to consult with your doctor to assess when it is safe for you to start working out again after a traumatic or deconditioning skiing or snowboarding injury.

Do not go beyond your actual skiing or snowboarding ability

To avoid injury, it is very important to stay within your actual – not your perceived – ability while skiing or snowboarding. There are beginners’ slopes and classes to help you acclimate to winter sports that will help condition your body and ready you for action. Remember to be careful and gradually progress on what you are able to do. Beginners shouldn’t try a black diamond course, and there is no shame in taking it slow. You’ll be much better off than someone who thinks they can conquer a difficult hill without being ready and end up injured.

Do not be afraid to seek help if you need assistance conditioning or if you are injured

If you are injured while skiing or snowboarding, don’t be afraid to ask for help getting up and getting treated. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out help in conditioning your body for the slopes. Enlisting proper instruction is key to preventing injury, and getting proper help is imperative to treating and overcoming your injuries.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Now that you know a little more about the importance of properly caring for your physical conditioning before hitting the slopes, grab some skis or a snowboard and get started! Injury is always a possibility, as with any sport, so keep in mind what to do if you do get hurt so you can get back on your feet sooner. Once you become a more experienced skier or snowboarder, you’ll feel much more comfortable for following some simple advice.


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Photo Credits: Gorilla/bigstock.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Dr. Mark GallandBoard Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon

Dr. Mark Galland is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon specializing in sports medicine, practicing in Wake Forest and North Raleigh. He serves as team physician and orthopaedic consultant to the Carolina Mudcats, the advanced A affiliate of t...

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