In the next few weeks the world will be tuned-in to the excitement of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. And while these world-class athletes have had years and years of training, some of them may suffer from sports related injuries.
However, no sport is without risk and you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to suffer a sports injury. Skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hockey, and sledding are popular winter sports for all people of all ages, not just elite athletes. And while being active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, injuries frequently are an unintended consequence of these activities. In 2015, almost 56,714 individuals were injured while participating in the winter sports of snowmobiling, snowboarding, and ice skating and required treatment in emergency rooms, according to the National Safety Council. Many of these injuries may have been preventable.
Fractures, dislocations, sprains, strains, or contusions (bruises) are some of the common injuries that occur. These injuries seem to occur particularly at the end of the day, when the participant is tired. Recognizing when you are tired and stopping to rest may be one of the most important things you can do to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. This requires knowing your limits and stopping when you feel you don’t have complete control.
Many things can be done to prevent injury before you engage in an activity. Proper conditioning can prevent fatigue that can predispose to injury. Familiarity with the terrain and equipment is essential. With skiing or snowboarding, properly fitted equipment that is in good repair is also important. Helmet use can also help prevent devastating head injuries. Finally, a good warmup is a great way to prevent injury – cold muscles and tendons are more prone to injury than ones that have been properly warmed up.
Dehydration is another concern. Even though the temperatures outside are cooler, it’s important to maintain hydration during winter sports. The results of dehydration include fatigue, which can lead to injury, and an increased risk for hypothermia. It is important to remember to drink plenty of water before, during, and after participation in winter sports.
Finally, injuries due to cold weather deserve mention. Hypothermia and frostbite are common and often preventable. If you plan to be outdoors for extended periods, wear layers of warm clothing. Pay special attention to exposed skin especially ears, nose, and fingers. Signs of frostbite include stinging, burning, and numbness. You may experience pain, throbbing, burning, or an electric current-like sensation when the affected area is re-warmed. In first-degree frostbite, the affected area of skin usually becomes white and feels numb. Sometimes the skin is red. Seek shelter and warmth immediately if you notice any of these conditions. And don’t forget the sunscreen. Exposure to sun, even in the winter months, is a health risk.
Like any form of exercise, be sure to check with your physician if you have any health concerns before undertaking a new activity.
Mark A. Pollard, MD, is an orthopaedic surgeon with the Cooper Bone & Joint Institute. For more information about orthopaedic and sports medicine services at Cooper, click here.