Ski Safe

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Prevent Common Snowsport Injuries This Season

When taking to the slopes this season, you’ll probably start the day with plenty of energy and a smile on your face. But just one misstep can put an end to your great day—or, worse, your whole season. Wrenched shoulders, damaged knees, or broken bones may be serious bummers, but they’re also largely preventable mishaps. Stay safe this year with these tips for preventing the most common ski- and snowboard-related injuries and for treating minor problems when they do occur.

Know Your Risk
Just how risky are snowsports, anyway? Analysis of injury patterns at several large resorts reveals that, in any given season, about 4% of both skiers and snowboarders are likely to be injured seriously enough to require treatment. These injuries can range from the relatively minor—a twisted ankle or a bruised shoulder—to the critical. But across the board, certain risk factors remain clear.

  • Snowboarders have a higher risk for arm and shoulder injuries.
  • Skiers have a higher chance of lower-body injury.
  • Women are more likely than men to sustain serious lower-body injury.
  • Inexperienced athletes are at higher injury risk; however, formal instruction doesn’t appear to change the risk of injury meaningfully.
  • Children and adolescents are more likely than older athletes to hurt themselves.

An Ounce of Prevention
Don’t have time or money to waste on a pound of cure? While no strategy can prevent every injury, many of the most common sideliners can be avoided with a little knowledge and a healthy dose of common sense.

Train for safety. Sadly, despite popular belief, there’s no known strength training regimen to injury-proof your knees or shoulders. However, a strong core and good biomechanics can minimize your risk. Try mixing up your weight training with Pilates and power yoga classes. Or, for a no-cost, high-reward core builder, make it a habit to start and end your day with a series of plank and side plank exercises.

Dedicated skiers should consider the Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance (PEP) Program. This clinically-tested series of exercises is designed to build strength and improve balance with the aim of minimizing ACL injuries. Since a complete ACL tear can spell the permanent end of your skiing days, it may be worthwhile to make the regular training investment. Check out smsmf.org/smsf-programs/pep-program/ for a complete copy of the program.

Start (and end) your day right. Tempting as it may be to hit the slopes as soon as you get there, you’ll reduce your chance of injury substantially if you take a few minutes to warm up properly first. Start with a brisk ten- to fifteen-minute walk, then add in a few arm raises, torso twists, and deep knee bends to get your muscles ready for the day.

At the end of the day, stop while you’re still ahead. Fatigue is a significant factor in many injuries (ever wonder why the last run of the day seems to be so perilous?). Then resist the siren song of the après-ski bar for a few minutes and take time to thoroughly stretch and cool down.

Get equipped. Snowsport helmets have already been credited with reducing the rate of head injuries by 44%, and most serious snow athletes are already dedicated wearers.
Protect yourself further while snowboarding with a sport-specific pair of wrist guards. A Norwegian study showed that snowboarders who wore wrist guards cut their risk of wrist sprains or breaks by more than 50%.

What about knee braces for skiers? Unfortunately, unless you’ve already injured a knee and have been prescribed a specific brace by an orthopedist, there’s little evidence that bracing does much to prevent knee damage.

Get fitted. Studies of both skiers and snowboarders reveal that one major risk factor for injury is using equipment that’s not properly fitted. Often, this means rental equipment—a great argument for buying your own.

Additionally, self-adjusted bindings are bad news. Unless you’ve been thoroughly trained by a pro, have a real ski technician do the work for you (and don’t even think about remounting your own bindings after watching a YouTube video or two).

Simple Self-Care
Fortunately, most snowsports injuries are relatively minor and can be managed with basic home treatment. Twisted ankles, sore backs, and “skier’s thumb” all respond well to the HI-RICE protocol:

  • Hydrate promptly and thoroughly, ideally with a sports drink or other oral recovery solution (no, not a beer).
  • Ibuprofen both treats pain and keeps swelling down, minimizing next-day soreness.
  • Rest the affected body part (a great chance to catch up on Warren Miller movies!).
  • Ice the injury up to four times a day, for up to 35 minutes each time. Never allow ice to directly contact your skin.
  • Compress the area with an elastic bandage to minimize swelling.
  • Elevate the injury to increase the return of venous blood to general circulation.

Natural Choices for Healthy Joints
Especially if you’re a more “seasoned” skier, you may find that a day on the slopes leaves you with more aches and pains in your shoulders, knees, and back than it used to. While Ibuprofen or other pain relievers may be good short-term fixes, you may want to consider alternatives for stronger, healthier joints. Store shelves are crowded with products promising natural relief, but which ones are really up to the job? Consider these choices with strong clinical support.

  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin, often paired in a single supplement, are the gold standard of joint health-promoting alternatives. Glucosamine, which is naturally found in human cartilage, may help prevent cartilage from being worn away with repetitive stress. Chondroitin, another component of cartilage and bone, may help reduce arthritis pain, though its effectiveness is not as well proven as glucosamine’s.
  • Turmeric, a yellow spice that’s used in curry powder, appears to work by preventing joint inflammation rather than reducing existing damage. It may encourage bleeding, though, so skip it if you’re pregnant or taking blood thinner medications.
  • Baikal skullcap has demonstrated power to increase range of motion and reduce pain in patients with mild to moderate osteoarthritis. Read package labels carefully, though; many skullcap preparations include the related North American skullcap, which is frequently contaminated with toxins during processing.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D3 are essential nutrients for promoting bone health. Women require more calcium than men do to help prevent osteoporosis, so women especially should consider a supplement. Vitamin D3 has also been shown to have mood-boosting effects, meaning the supplement you take to keep your body healthy may help put you in the mood to go out and play.

Though skiing and snowboarding will never be 100% risk-free (and where’s the fun in that, anyway?), you can minimize your chances of injury and maximize your pain-free time on the slopes. So strap on your helmet, click into those properly adjusted bindings, and get ready for your best (and safest) ski season ever!

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About Author

Molly writes about fitness and nutrition from her home in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not at her desk, you can find her teaching history, hiking the Gorge, or hitting the archery range.

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