Whether it’s your first time on the ski slopes or you’re a seasoned skier and snowboarder, participating in winter sports puts you at risk of injury. Sprains, strains, dislocations and fractures are all common ski slope injuries. Even regular sports like running carry a greater injury risk in icy conditions.
But there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. And, as some of them require a bit of preparation and planning, it’s a good idea to start as soon as possible if you’re heading off on holiday this winter.
Common winter sports injuries
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, around 200,000 people were treated for injuries related to winter sports in 2018. Most (76,000) were from skiing and there were 53,000 injuries from snowboarding and 48,000 from ice skating.
Snowboarder’s wrist is a common injury caused by falling at speed while snowboarding or skiing. It can result in a fracture of the distal radius or scaphoid, which is more difficult to diagnose and does not always heal well.
It’s worth noting that the majority of injuries occur towards the end of the day when people are tired. If you feel exhausted or you are experiencing pain it is a good idea to head back to your resort rather than trying to fit in one last run.
The good news is that many winter sports injuries can be prevented. Top tips for reducing your injury risk include:
- Building up your fitness levels and muscle strength. Many injuries can be avoided by keeping in good physical condition. This doesn’t happen overnight, so it is a good idea to start working out a few weeks before your holiday if you can.
- Warming up thoroughly before you head out onto the slopes. Cold muscles, ligaments and tendons are particularly susceptible to injury. Wear several layers of light, loose clothing that is wind and rain resistant to keep dry and warm. Layers of lightweat clothing adapt to your body’s fluctuating temperature better than a single thicker layer.
- Developing good technique by having proper lessons with a qualified instructor will teach you how to fall properly which can greatly reduce your injury risk.
- Making sure you wear the right protective gear, including a helmet, goggles and padding, will protect you in the event of an accident. It is important to have good quality ski boots that have sufficient ankle support and keep your feet dry.
- Avoiding alcohol while out on the slopes is crucial. A recent report found that more than 1,000 UK citizens every day are injured on skiing holidays after drinking alcohol. The report was based on data gathered by insurer Direct Line, combining survey results from 2,000 holidaymakers.
- Keeping hydrated by drinking water is essential. Physical activity causes you to sweat and can lead to you becoming dehydrated if you don’t replace the lost fluid.
- Staying alert and following safety guidance is important. Never go off alone and always observe warnings about storms and severe drops in temperature.
Even if you take precautions like these, accidents can sometimes occur. If you or a member of your party is injured or suffers hypothermia, seek medical help immediately and look for shelter. Never continue skiing if you are injured.
Following the RICE method – rest, ice, compression, elevation of the affected limb – may help to reduce swelling. If the injury is severe you may need to get a proper diagnosis.
Diagnosis of winter sports injuries
There are a number of approaches to diagnosing sports injuries. In the first instance you will undergo a physical examination to check for pain, swelling and deformity of the affected area. You may also be referred for one of the following diagnostic imaging procedures:
- X-ray – these are normally used to check for fractures
- Ultrasound – this uses high frequency sound waves to examine organs and internal structures.
- CT scan – these provide cross-sectional images of your body. A contrast dye is sometimes used to provide a clearer picture of what is going on inside.
- MRI scan – these use large magnets and radio waves to examine organs and internal structures. An MRI scan is often used to diagnose fractures which do not show up on an X-ray (occult fractures).
- Arthroscopy – this involves using an arthroscope (a thin instrument with a camera at one end) to see inside the joint. It is sometimes used to diagnose scapholunate ligament injuries.
It is important to get a proper diagnosis if you have been seriously injured as continuing to use a damaged limb could lead to significant worsening of the injury.
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