The Winter Olympics are finally here! 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, too.
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 dislocations. The location of the injuries varies from sport to sport. For example, snowboarders have a greater incidence of wrist injuries, as well as injuries to the tailbone and concussions. Knee injuries are more common in skiers, namely anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. 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 recently commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to study the growing rate of youth ACL injuries and address measures for prevention.
Fortunately, most of these injuries are preventable. Ganley shares the following steps your family can take to reduce your risk of injury during your favorite winter activity.
- 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 Ganley. It’s important to remember that elite level ice skaters, hockey players, and snow skiers/boarders 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.
- Don’t go from 0 to 100. Warm up with light exercises or stretches, and ease into the activity. Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more prone to injury.
- Protection is a must. Always wear the appropriate protective gear for the activity, like helmets, goggles, wrist guards, and knee and elbow pads.
- Test your equipment. Before going on the first run, make sure all equipment is in good working order.
- Learn how to fall. Shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries can result from trying to brace a fall. Take a lesson or two from a trained instructor, who will provide direction on how to fall correctly.
- Know and follow safety rules. For example, stay within the marked ski and snowboard trails, and learn how to get on and off the ski lift.
- Know your limits. Choose slopes and maneuvers that match your skill level.
- Stop when you’re tired. Accidents are more likely to occur when you’re fatigued.
- Layer up. Clothes that become damp from sweat can lower your body temperature. Wear a breathable base layer, one or two insulating layers, and a water and windproof outer layer to ensure you stay warm and dry.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water before, during and after the activity.
Sledding warrants a few specific tips all its own, says Ganley, noting that while it seems like a harmless winter pastime, it actually poses 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 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 clothing that could get caught in the sled.
- Use a sled that the child can steer.
If an injury does occur, Ganley recommends seeing a doctor 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,” says Ganley. “They should also undergo balance training before returning to sports.”
CHOP offers leading-edge sports medicine and concussion initiatives, as well as an injury prevention program that provides education and resources to prevent injuries in children. For more information contact the Division of Orthopaedics online or call 215-590-1527.