The low-down on skiing injuries: Frequency, type and prevention
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Just where has 2017 gone? We're rapidly hurtling toward the holiday season and with that, many people turn their attention to planning a skiing vacation. Peak ski season in Europe tends to run from December to March and slightly longer in some areas of the U.S.
While skiing vacations can be great fun for the whole family and make for a very active vacation, injuries can happen, as with all sports. There is a great deal of variation when it comes to reports of the prevalence of injuries when skiing and snowboarding. However, the general consensus is that skiing is safer than snowboarding, with reports of between 0.9 and four injuries per 1,000 skiing days, compared to snowboarders who reportedly sustain between four and 16 injuries per 1,000 snowboard days.
Either way, taking an average of four injuries per 1,000 days equates to one injury every 250 whole days of fun on the slopes. That doesn't sound too bad, right?
As with many potentially dangerous things in life (think road accidents), young men do appear to be the worst offenders, with 85 percent of skiing fatalities in the U.S. being males and 70 percent aged from the late teens to the late 30s. Thankfully, however, fatalities are rare with only one occurrence in every 1 million skier days.
So maybe snow sports don't deserve the high-risk, injury prone reputation they've gathered. But there are two big issues when it comes to ski and snowboard injuries:
- Injuries are likely to be moderate to severe in nature and impact work and life for some time after the vacation.
- Injuries that occur on vacation mean you can no longer fully participate in and enjoy the main purpose of your trip.
Injury type and severity
Knee damage is by far the most common injury to occur when skiing. This is due to the rotational and lateral forces put through the knee joint, which it isn't really designed for. The knee is a hinge joint and as such moves in just one plane of motion (the sagittal plane) — bend and straighten.
Falls and impacts to the knee in these twisted and sideways positions can result in injuries such as meniscal (cartilage) tears and cruciate or medial ligament tears and ruptures. These injuries can require surgery as worst, leaving an individual out of action from sports and work for up to nine months. Even the best-case scenarios with a mild injury can mean no physical activity for 4-6 weeks while the injury heals.
For snowboarders, the knees are less at risk due to the restricted rotational and lateral forces that can come into play when the feet are both strapped to one board. Instead, upper body injuries are more prevalent. This is due to falls and landing either onto outstretched arms or directly onto the shoulder joint.
Shoulder impact injuries such as AC joint disruptions, rotator cuff tears and joint dislocations are among the most common. Wrist and forearm fractures are also among the most regular occurrences. Again, a mild injury will take a few weeks to heal, with a major injury requiring surgery and several months recuperation.
While some injuries are unavoidable through other people's actions, there are steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of suffering an injury during your winter sports vacation. Here are my top six tips for preventing injuries on the slopes:
Use the right equipment and the best equipment you can afford. The best boots and bindings, etc., will help reduce injuries in the event of a fall. Wear a helmet to protect against potentially fatal head injuries.
If you're not usually that active, make sure you do some preskiing fitness training. This can include some form of cardiovascular training such as cross training or cycling, but should most definitely include leg strength work.
Building up the strength in the thigh and buttock muscles will help not only with your performance and ability, but also with preventing knee injuries. These muscles will help stabilize the knee joint and control excess lateral and rotational motions. Squats, lunges and bridges are ideal examples.
I would also recommend working on your core strength with exercises like planks as well as your balance. Wobble boards and cushions are great, but there are plenty of balance exercises out there that require no equipment at all.
Stick to the rules of the resort. These usually cover aspects like speed, overtaking, stopping, following signs and use of the ski lifts. They are there for a reason and most often this reason is your safety and that of others around you.
This is overlooked in most amateur sports. A warm-up can directly prevent an injury. You can't expect your body to go from cold and to being in top form. You must gently get it going with exercises designed to warm the muscles, get the blood flowing and take the body through its full range of motion.
Not only does a warm-up prepare the body physically, but also mentally. It helps with coordination and alertness — all required to react quickly to the unexpected.
Most people new to snow sports will undertake some form of lessons, either before leaving for their vacation or over the first few days of their trip. This is 100 percent recommended to learn the rules and techniques that could save you from hurting yourself (or anyone else).
Few more experienced skiers will continue to take lessons. While less instruction is required than when new to the sport, returning snow sports veterans could also sometimes do with a refresher. Don't be too proud to book yourself a lesson — you'll probably be surprised how much you've forgotten!.
It's a fact that more injuries happen on the last run of the day than at any other time. Once fatigue has set in, the mind and body are both negatively affected, resulting in diminished strength and control, reduced alertness, coordination and poor judgement.
Take regular breaks, stop for food and drink and don't push yourself when you start to feel tired.
Following these six pointers can significantly reduce your risk of suffering an injury on the slopes. Happy snow sporting!
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