Who hasn’t been watching Shaun White dominate the Winter Olympics since 2006, or Chloe Kim slay her back-to-back 1080 in the 2018 Olympics to win gold? It makes a person excited for this delightfully chilly time of year; ‘Tis the season for winter sports! Cold weather activities, like skiing or snowboarding, are not only dominated by those who absolutely shred, they’re also (unfortunately) chock full of injury risks.
Skiers and snowboarders experience different types of injuries due to a number of factors like experience level, physical preparation and proper equipment. While concussions are common in both camps, skiing tends to result in more knee and lower extremity injuries due to the twisting and turning motion during the falls. Contrary to that, upper body injuries are generally more prevalent among snowboarders as a result of falling on their outstretched hands. Ankle injuries are also frequent because snowboarding boots are typically softer than ski boots, allowing more room for the foot and ankle to move around. Experience plays a role as well. Approximately 1 out of every 4 snowboarding injuries occurs on the first day of the season and 50% of total injuries happen during a boarder’s first season. Due to the high volume of falls during the learning process, beginner snowboarders tend to suffer more wrist and ankle injuries. As they become more confident and falls become less frequent, so do these injuries. Once the snowboarder progresses in skill and begins experimenting with jumps or backcountry, head and spine injuries become more prominent.
Those who participate in these sports should always wear protective gear like helmets or gloves but these won’t completely protect the wearer from injury. While there is no guaranteed way to avoid getting hurt, below are a few commonly injured areas along with steps you can take to minimize injury risk and best prepare yourself for the slopes.
Lower extremity injuries are becoming less frequent due to improvements in boots and binding technology. Still, due to softer boots, outer leg ankle fractures are still common. The difficulty to pick up on this particular injury with imaging means that there should be a high level of suspicion even when X-ray findings are negative, especially if an ankle sprain is present. Signs to look for are persistent pain, difficulty putting weight on the leg/foot, limitations in motion and failure to improve with appropriate management. These injuries are most commonly seen with aerial stunt landings after over rotation. The unfortunate truth about ankle sprains is that once you suffer one, you’re much more likely to injure that ankle again. Ankle Physical Therapy can help you properly strengthen and heal to help you build the skills necessary to prevent future injury.
Making up an increasing proportion of injuries due to the lessening frequency of ankle injuries, the wrist is now the most commonly injured area. As newer snowboarders fall and brace themselves for impact, their arms are outstretched to lessen the fall, which can result in a fracture of one of the many bones in the wrist or hand. A good way to prevent this injury as a beginner would be to wear wrist guards, or to fall on the forearm with fists closed and elbows bent.
Helmets are being made to look much more appealing and are now designed with less obstructions to hearing or vision. Not wearing a helmet causes a significantly increased risk for concussion or skull fracture with either falling backwards or catching an edge after a jump. Skiers are more likely to experience a concussion, while snowboarders are more likely to experience a severe form of a traumatic brain injury which can in some cases result in death. If a mild head injury is suspected, an experienced physical therapist can assess and treat the concussion symptoms. If a more severe traumatic brain injury is suspected, a more thorough examination and treatment plan involving your physician, including physical therapy, may be needed.
Snowboarding is an incredible way to experience some of the most beautiful and majestic mountains around the world. While shredding the gnar can be a rewarding experience, it is not uncommon to experience an injury in the first season. Injuries can never be 100% prevented, but they can be minimized with protective equipment, balance training and sport-specific strength training. If you have questions about how you can minimize a skiing or snowboarding related injury, or if you currently have pain during these winter activities, please contact us. Our goal is to help you get back on the mountain safely and quickly!
–Nathan Redington, DPT, Therapydia Beaverton