Stay on the slopes: Prevent skiing and snowboarding injuries

by James Bicos, M.D. and Joseph Guettler, M.D., board-certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeons, Beaumont Health System

Skiing/snowboarding safetyMillions of people across Michigan and around the country enjoy skiing and snowboarding during the winter months. Despite widespread popularity of these sports, few participants really prepare for the amount of stress carving up a slope can put on the human body. Many snow sports injuries can be prevented through common sense, proper equipment and proper conditioning.

The most common types of skiing or snowboarding injuries are caused by dangerous terrain, collisions and falling or exiting lifts. Issues that can increase your risk of injury include:

  • fatigue and time spent on slopes without adequate rest
  • faulty or improper equipment
  • dehydration
  • altitude sickness
  • not observing posted warning signs
  • skiing or snowboarding above your ability level

These activities can cause a wide range of injuries, but the most common are ACL tears, shoulder dislocations or separations, tibial fractures, spinal injuries and hand/wrist injuries. Most of these can be treated conservatively, but many ligament or fracture injuries may require surgery. Recovery from snow sports injuries, especially if surgery is involved, can take up to six months.

Therefore, your main focus should be the prevention of injuries.

Proper instruction and equipment is crucial to prevention. If you are new to the sport, be sure to take a lesson. The instructors will review proper equipment, mountain safety, how to get on or off lifts and they will direct you to slopes that are appropriate for your level of experience. Remember, your goal is not only to protect yourself, but to prevent injuries to others as well. This is part of the mountain code of safety.

Although most resorts don’t require it, wear protective equipment, such as helmets and wrist guards.  Helmets can save your life! One study found the use of helmets was associated with a 43 percent decreased rate of head and neck injuries.

Use common sense. Many injuries occur when you are on terrain that is too advanced for your skill set. Fatigue also plays a significant role, so take time to rest. Watch out for changing climate conditions and stay hydrated. Finally, be aware of warning signs and abide by the rules. The National Ski Areas Association has a responsibility code for reducing risk. Every skier and snowboard should become familiar with it.

Snow sports are exciting and fun! Just remember to stay safe, know your limits, and wear protective gear. That will keep you on the slopes and out of the doctor’s office.

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