Not everyone in New England looks forward to the colder months — but for those who enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, the season is a wonderful opportunity for fun and fitness. Still, the winter wonderland that is a freshly powdered ski slope comes with some risks.
The good news? By taking a few simple steps toward injury prevention before gearing up for winter activities, you can ensure you stay safe during the cold months.
“Aside from routine slips and falls, skiing and snowboarding are the most common causes of injury that we see during winter,” says Dr. Joseph Czarnecki, an orthopedic surgeon at Winchester Hospital. These injuries include wrist fractures, tibia fractures, hamstring injuries and tears or other trauma to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) of the knee.
Most people who experience skiing and snowboarding injuries tend to fall into one of two main categories: novice or out-of-practice athletes, and those who are more advanced but unfamiliar with the mountain terrain. Here are four practices that winter-sports lovers of any level of experience should implement.
1. Get Fit
It pays to stay in shape and take a few precautions before you even hit the slopes. For example, skiing requires core strength and stability, so work on strengthening your abdominal muscles all year long. And don’t forget to loosen up.
“If you’re skiing or snowboarding first thing in the morning or have spent hours in the car on your way there, you need to get your muscles warmed up,” explained Dr. Czarnecki. “Stretching your hamstrings and other muscles can help with injury prevention.”
2. Hone Your Technique
Proper technique can make the difference between a fun day on the mountain and a trip to the emergency room. Don’t be afraid to take a lesson or two beforehand, whether you’re new to winter sports or just haven’t done them in a while. Even advanced skiers and snowboarders can benefit from a refresher if it’s been a year or more since their last outing. Specific online exercise programs — such as those aimed at preventing ACL tears in athletes — can help you improve your technique too, Dr. Czarnecki noted.
3. Use Proper Equipment
Novice snowboarders tend to break their fall with their hands, a bad habit that can increase the risk of wrist and hand injuries. Wear wrist guards, especially if you’re new to the sport. And everyone, adults included, should wear a helmet when skiing or snowboarding. Set a good example for your whole family by protecting yourself against harm.
4. Do a Practice Run
“Not all skiing and snowboarding injuries are preventable,” Dr. Czarnecki pointed out, “But many of them are the result of poor conditions or poor technique.”
Even if you think you know the terrain, try a few practice runs to familiarize yourself with any changes or irregularities that might trip you up.
By following these key measures, you can help protect yourself all winter long. Talk to a physician about how to stay safe while performing your favorite cold-weather activities this season.