Dr. John Fernandez Offers Tips for Skiers and Snowboarders
Nothing can make a winter weekend or spring break ski trip as chilling as a visit to the emergency room. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), snow sports account for the most outdoor recreational emergency visits, with snowboarding as the top cause. In just the last decade, studies show that snowboarding injuries have doubled and the majority of those were hand or wrist-related.
"We see a big increase in hand and wrist injuries after the first snow fall of the season," explains Dr. John Fernandez, a hand, wrist and elbow physician who specializes in minimally invasive procedures at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR). "In addition to regular falls on the ice this time of year, we also see patients injured from snowboarding, skiing and ice skating."
According to a team of researchers that has studied ski injuries in Vermont, while the number of skiing accidents has stayed the same over the past 10 years, the number of snowboarding injuries is up significantly. The studies also concluded that a person is 50 to 70 percent more likely to be injured from snowboarding as opposed to skiing. However, experts say skiing accidents often can lead to more serious injuries, especially when skiers don't wear helmets. The good news is that an increasing number of skiers are wearing helmets on the slopes.
For boarders and skiers, wrists and thumbs are at highest risk of injury. Boarders naturally outstretch their hands to catch a fall, which can result in sprains and fractures of the wrist and fingers. Skiers frequently hurt their thumbs when they forget to release ski poles as they fall. The pole acts like a lever, bending the thumb at the joint above the knuckle. This can tear ligaments and result in a condition known as skiers thumb.
Following are some tips by the MOR hand, wrist and elbow physicians for preventing injuries while enjoying winter sports:
Wear protective gear. Helmets for both skiers and snowboarders are clinically proven to decrease head injuries from falls or accidents. MOR physicians also suggest that snowboarders wear wrist guards because they are shown to decrease the impact of falls. Studies show that wrist guards have been proven to reduce injuries among snowboarders by as much as 50 percent. Many options are available and the MOR hand, wrist and elbow physicians recommend researching wrist guards to find the best one. There also are gloves designed with built in wrist guards.
Work with an Instructor. Before tackling the hill or the ice rink for the first time, it is best to take a lesson from a certified instructor. They will educate on correct techniques, proper equipment and will teach skiers, snowboarders and skaters how to fall safely.
Know how to fall. People naturally reach out hands to stop a fall, which is what leads to most snowboard wrist injuries. Alternatively, not letting go of a ski pole is the leading cause of thumb injuries of skiers. Practice falling in the snow on your forearm because it will protect the most delicate arm joints and disperse impact force. For skiers, practice dropping the pole as you fall.
Stay hydrated. Dehydration can impair judgment and performance. Most fluid is lost through respiration when it is cold outside. In high altitudes over 6,000 feet above sea level, as much as a half a quart of liquid per hour can be lost when exercising on the slopes. All outdoor athletes should drink 24 ounces of fluid every three hours. Once dehydrated, it can take all day to recover and judgment can be impaired, leading to a higher risk of injury.
Take breaks. Being tired or fatigued also can lead to injury. Be sure to take frequent breaks and relax every couple of hours, more often if at higher altitudes.
Check equipment. Be sure it fits properly and is functioning before you use it.
Dr. Fernandez and his fellow hand, wrist and elbow specialists, Dr. Mark Cohen and Dr. Robert Wysocki at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, have put together a brochure with more injury prevention tips for winter sport enthusiasts.
Dr. Mark Cohen Cautions About the Dangers of Winter Sidewalks and Streets
Dr. Blomgren Explains How Athletes can Keep Running in the Winter Cold
Dr. Cohen on Snowboarding Injury Prevention