Bring on the winter sports! With winter fast approaching, seasonal sports like skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating, and sledding are just getting started. While cold-weather sports are fun and popular, the various injuries that can result from them aren’t enjoyable. In 2015, according to the National Safety Council, nearly 76,000 individuals went to the emergency room for injuries sustained while snowboarding, ice skating, playing ice hockey, or snowmobiling.
Common Winter Injuries
If you’re aware of the most common injuries sustained when participating in winter sports, you’ll be better able to identify and treat these injuries if they arise. Back, wrist, knee, and ankle injuries, unfortunately, come with the enjoyment of cold weather activities.
Skiing & Snowboarding
Skiing and snowboarding both rely heavily on leg strength for balance and motion. Common injuries include overuse injuries like tendonitis, and injuries sustained while falling during these sports including strains, sprains, or more serious tendon, ligament, or bone injuries. For skiers, ACL and hand injuries are common. Snowboarders are more likely to injure their wrist or ankle and may suffer from shoulder dislocations from falls. Both skiers and snowboarders can fall victim to lower back, knee, and muscle strains and pulls.
Ice skating, whether indoors or outdoors, involves quickly moving on a hard surface. Ice is not forgiving for falls and skaters run the risk of ankle, knee, wrist, and under some circumstances even head injuries. Frequent skaters may also experience overuse injuries such as stress fractures and ankle bursitis.
Sledding is an enjoyable activity for all ages, but can lead to some potentially serious injuries. Young children are particularly at risk for injury. Head, face, extremity, and abdominal injuries are risks you may encounter, especially if measures are not taken to sled safely, away from objects and other sledders
When winter comes, many must break out the snow shovel. Shoveling injuries typically impact the back, including injuries to the lumbar and lower back. It puts strain on the lower back muscles and extensive shoveling can lead to back spasms, pain, and posterior disc herniation, which may cause sciatic nerve aggravation.
Why Do Injuries Hurt More in Winter?
Injuries seem to hurt more in the winter. Why is that the case? “The research suggests that in colder weather, the body will conserve heat, and it will send more of the blood to the organs in the center of the body, like the heart or the lungs,” said Armin Tehrany, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care. “So, when that happens, the arms, legs, shoulders, knee joints, those blood vessels will constrict.” Less blood flow makes those areas colder and stiffer, which in turn can cause discomfort and pain. Another theory is that changes in barometric pressure can cause additional inflammation in joints, leading to additional pain, increased nerve sensitivity, and decreased circulation.
What’s the best way to reduce the heightened sense of pain that may be felt during the winter? Keep warm—baths, saunas, and layered clothing help keep the body warm, make joints and muscles feel less stiff, and may reduce the feeling of pain. If an injury is already present, check with your physician before using heat therapy.
Here are a few techniques and tools winter sports enthusiasts can use to reduce the likelihood of injury.
- Ease Back In
After a long off season, don’t make the mistake of jumping right back into winter sports. Ease in by starting with shorter, gentler activity sessions which will decrease the likelihood of injury as you’re getting back to it.
- Stretching, Warm Up & Cool Down
Taking efforts to properly stretch and warm up before winter sports, reduces the risk of injury, as cold muscles and ligaments are more prone to injury. It’s equally important after winter activities to take time to cool down and care for muscles.
- Proper Equipment
Wearing layered clothing will help regulate body temperature and keep the body warm. Safety equipment is also important in having a safe winter sport experience. Consider wearing a helmet for sports where collision and fall risks are high (e.g., snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, hockey, and sledding). Goggles, waterproof clothing, gloves, and appropriate footwear will protect your skin from the elements and reduce the chances for frostbite and hypothermia.
- Be Aware & Alert
Participating in winter sports when tired may increase the odds for injury. Once fatigue and tiredness set in, the chances of injury from falling, collisions, and other hazards may increase. If fatigue sets in during participation, take breaks to rest and recharge. With any winter activity, reduce your risk of collision by staying aware of your environment and others around you.
Winter sports are exciting and entertaining. With a few simple prevention techniques and knowledge regarding common injuries, the season will be more enjoyable for the entire family.
NWPC knows that winter sports accidents happen. We’re here to help from diagnosis to treatment to rehabilitation and get you back on the snow soon.