Don’t Let an Injury Put Your Winter Plans on Ice

How you can prevent common snow sports injuries this season

Reviewed by: Tammy Noel, MSN, APRN, NP-C
Written by: Lauryn Feil

While snow may not be in abundance here in Texas, that doesn’t stop thousands of winter sports enthusiasts from traveling to the hottest (or shall we say the coldest) snow skiing, boarding, and sledding destinations in the United States and Canada each year. However, as thrilling as it may seem to jump right in and enjoy the ride down freshly powdered slopes, a lack of preparation beforehand can result in a potentially very serious injury.

For snow sports, the average injury rate is 2-3 injuries per every 1,000 participants on any given day. Injuries can happen to anyone, even the most elite athletes. People are at greater risk of injury when they are new to snow sports or taking more risks by skiing and boarding at high speeds or through backwoods terrain. Snow sports injuries also tend to occur at the end of the day when people are tired and overexert their bodies to finish that one last run.

UT Health Austin’s Sports and Injury Clinic specialists address the most common winter sports injuries and how to avoid a potential trip to the ER this season.

The most common winter sports injuries include:

Strains

Strains occur when an injury is sustained to the muscles or tendons. Cold weather can cause muscles and joints to be tighter, resulting in less range of motion, putting athletes at an increased risk for pulled muscles or muscle tears. Muscle and joint soreness or fatigue is normal after a full day on the mountain, but if you’re experiencing intense pain or soreness, and limited range of motion, you may have a more severe strain. Winter sports participants often experience strains in the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, back, or groin, but any muscle in the body is susceptible. Overexertion and lack of proper warm-up are the major causes of strains in athletes.

Sprains

The joints in the legs absorb a huge amount of shock during intense activities like skiing, snowboarding, or skating, and as a result, ankle, foot, and knee sprains are common winter sports injuries. Skiers are more prone to knee ligament or cartilage injuries resulting from an awkward twist or fall. Snowboarding and skating, on the other hand, put a large amount of pressure on the ankles that can cause pronation leading to a sprain or fracture. In any sport, if an athlete uses their arms to brace themselves for a fall, this can also result in sprains of the wrist, hand, or thumb.

Dislocations

Common dislocations during winter sports occur in the shoulders, knees, elbows, and wrists. These injuries can be extremely painful and may cause long-term damage to the joint and nearby ligaments and muscles. Dislocations occur after the body sustains a hard hit to the ground, another person, or a fixed object, such as a tree. Whereas skiers are more likely to dislocate a knee or kneecap as a result of an unnatural knee twist, snowboarders and other athletes, like hockey players, are twice as likely to suffer from upper body dislocations to the wrists and shoulders due to a fall or direct impact. Depending on the seriousness of the dislocation, surgery may be necessary to repair nearby ligaments.

Fractures

What can cause a sprain, can also cause a fracture. A hard hit, fall, or twist of an ankle, foot, wrist, or hand can result in some of the most common fractures seen in snow sports. Hand and wrist fractures are often caused from a fall where an athlete reflexively uses their arms to brace themselves for impact. Metatarsal stress fractures of the foot are commonly caused by an impact from a fall or consistent impact over time. Fractures can be very painful and if not set and treated soon after an injury occurs, they can heal improperly, causing long-term damage to the bone and other functionality issues.

Head and Spinal Injuries

Head and spinal injuries often occur due to a high-speed collision of greater than 30 mph. Each year, more than 23,500 concussions result from participating in winter sports, a third of them among children. Most injuries occur while skiing or snowboarding, but it can happen during any activity including sledding, skating or playing hockey. When someone takes a fall, it is important to check for signs of brain injury such as blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, swelling at the site of the injury, or vomiting. Any neck or back pain after twisting or hyper-extending may also be a sign of injury to the cervical spine, which can put pressure on the spinal cord. These injuries should be taken very seriously and treated immediately by a medical professional.

In many cases, these types of injuries can be prevented by following important winter sports safety precautions. Below are safety tips from UT Health Austin specialists to consider before hitting the slopes.

Tips to stay healthy and safe during your activity of choice:

  • Stay active and fit prior to participating in a winter sport to prevent overexertion
  • Never participate in a winter sport alone in case you need a buddy to help in the event of an emergency
  • Warm up your muscles and joints before heading out into the cold
  • Wear layers of light, loose, water and wind resistant clothing for warmth and protection as well as footwear with proper ankle support
  • Check your equipment before heading out to be sure everything is working and safe.
  • Remember to take breaks to rest, eat and stay hydrated
  • Understand and abide by the rules of your sport
  • If you are new to winter sports, take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor to learn how to fall correctly, especially if you decide to ski or snowboard
  • Pay attention to incoming weather and be aware of areas of closures
  • Be aware of proper procedures for getting help if an injury does occur
  • If you are in pain or exhausted, avoid participating in your sport until you recover

Even if you are following these tips successfully, accidents and injuries may still occur. In the event of an injury, the first step is always to get help, and the second is to find the best treatment option for your injury. UT Health Austin sports and injury specialists work together to offer personalized care for a wide range of orthopedic problems as well as pain management and rehabilitation to get you back to what matters most to you.

To learn more about sports and injury services offered or to make an appointment, visit here or call 1-833-883-2737.

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About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin, the group practice designed and managed by the faculty and staff of the Dell Medical School, focuses the expertise of a team of experienced medical professionals to deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality. Our experienced healthcare professionals treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.