Teen snowboarder The Winter Olympics are back! Watching the world’s best athletes give it their all on the international stage for two weeks is inspiring and often motivates us – recreational enthusiasts – to participate in our favorite cold weather activity.

But while activities like skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hockey and sledding are great ways to get outside during the long, cold winter months, they can also be dangerous. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people suffer injuries from these and other outdoor winter sports.

Common winter sports injuries include fractures, sprains, strains, concussions and joint dislocations. The location of the injuries varies from sport to sport. For example, snowboarders have a greater incidence of wrist injuries, tailbone injuries and concussions. Knee injuries are more common in skiers, namely anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

In fact, Theodore Ganley, MD, Director of the Sports Medicine and Performance Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), is a member of an expert group of physicians, physical therapists and other scientists commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to study the growing rate of youth ACL injuries and address measures for prevention.

How to prevent winter sports injuries

Fortunately, most of these injuries are preventable. Dr. Ganley shares the following steps your family can take to reduce your risk of injury during your favorite winter activity.

  1. Shape up. Stay in shape and condition muscles prior to participating in winter activities. “It’s impossible to prevent all ligament injuries, but core strengthening, hip strengthening and stability training keep the arms and legs in peak condition, so you minimize your risk of injury,” says Dr. Ganley. It’s important to remember that elite level ice skaters, hockey players and snow skiers/snowboarders engage in a huge amount of core strengthening and endurance training before they ever hit the ice or slopes, he adds. They are also often on a very strict regimen that includes regular intervals of training and rest, proper nutrition, and plenty of sleep.
  2. Don’t go from zero to 100. Warm up with light exercises or stretches, and ease into the activity. Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more prone to injury.
  3. Protection is a must. Always wear the appropriate protective gear for the activity, like helmets, goggles, wrist guards, and knee and/or elbow pads.
  4. Test your equipment. Before going on your first run, make sure all your equipment is in good working order.
  5. Learn how to fall. Shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries can result from trying to brace during a fall. Take a lesson or two from a trained instructor, who will provide direction on how to fall correctly.
  6. Know and follow safety rules. For example, stay within the marked ski and snowboard trails, and learn how to safely get on and off the ski lift.
  7. Know your limits. Choose slopes and maneuvers that match your skill level.
  8. Stop when you’re tired. Accidents are more likely to occur when you’re fatigued.
  9. Layer up. Clothes that become damp from sweat can lower your body temperature. Wear a breathable base layer, add one or two insulating layers, and a water and windproof outer layer to ensure you stay warm and dry. Make sure to wear appropriate socks and footwear as well.
  10. Stay hydrated. Drink water before, during and after the activity.

Safe sledding tips

Sledding warrants a few specific tips all its own, says Dr. Ganley, noting that while it may seem like a harmless winter pastime, it poses some very serious risks, including head injuries (sometimes as serious as traumatic brain injury) and fractures. He shares the following tips to sled safely:

  • Sledding injuries often result from collisions at the end of paths. Make sure the hill your child is going down is clear of obstacles and isn’t near a road, parking lot, pond, street poles, etc.
  • Have children go on the sled by themselves, not with a parent. “Parents often think it’s safer if they go down the hill with their child sitting in front of them, but the increased weight means greater speed down a hill which can lead to a higher-energy injury,” says Dr. Ganley.
  • Another common cause of injury is sledding in an improper position. Make sure children go down feet-first, in a seated position, not head-first lying on their stomach.
  • Keep feet inside the sled and avoid wearing loose or torn clothing that could get caught in the sled.
  • Use a sled that the child can steer.

If an injury does occur, Dr. Ganley recommends being evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible to ensure proper treatment and healing.

“After an injury and after the bones have been fixed, and ligament – as well as muscle strains – have been addressed, children need to be fully rehabilitated,” Dr. Ganley says. “They should also undergo balance training before returning to sports.”

CHOP offers leading-edge sports medicine and concussion care, as well as an Injury Prevention Program that provides education and resources to prevent injuries in children. For more information, complete the Orthopaedics Referral Nurse Navigator form or call 215-590-1527.

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