As the holidays and Christmas break near, many snowboarders and skiers are hitting the slopes for the first time this season, and with a few precautions, they can protect themselves from injury.
“Like anything, no one thinks they are going to be the one that’s going to get hurt,” said Dr. James Johnson, a staff physician for the U.S Ski Team and an orthopedic surgeon with Panorama Orthopedics & Spine Center in metro Denver. Johnson specializes in sports injuries and shoulder and knee surgery.
However, being injured on the mountain happens more often than many realize. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2008:
- Snowboarding was the leading cause of winter sports injuries, sending 150,065 people to hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, clinics and other medical settings.
- Skiing came in second with 148,555 injuries.
For skiers, knee injuries — with tears in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) or meniscus — are the most common. Snowboarders are more likely to fracture or dislocate their wrists, elbows or shoulders. Both can experience head trauma on the slopes. Regardless of the chosen activity, men and women tend to suffer injuries at similar rates.
Doctors tend to see many skiing- and snowboarding-related injuries early in the season, Johnson said, often because participants have not properly conditioned their bodies for activity on the mountain. Programs to help boarders and skiers prepare for the season have proven effective in preventing injuries, he said.
Skiing and snowboarding require strength, stability and balance. As part of a conditioning program, Johnson recommends participants focus on areas such as:
- Strengthening exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstring and hip rotator muscles.
- Skiing or boarding techniques that focus on maintaining good balance and staying centered over the skis or snowboard.
Johnson recommends 30-45 minutes of conditioning every other day for about six weeks to prepare the body fully for a new season.
Participants can also protect themselves by taking on terrain they are comfortable with and staying focused while on the mountain. Johnson said many injures happen on green runs when boarders and skiers may be less attentive to what they are doing than when they are on blue or black runs.
He says exhaustion can also be a factor for some injuries. Participants should check their tiredness before heading back up the mountain for one last run.
Wishing you health this season. Happy Holidays!