The biting cold air felt on our morning commute signals the beginning of winter. With the frigid temperatures outside, you might expect people to stay at home and enjoy the warmth of the indoors as much as they possibly can. Yet, despite the low temperatures, millions of people visit ski slopes, ice rinks, and local parks each year to enjoy a few hours of ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, sledding, or other winter sports. Unfortunately, while people partake in these frosty activities competitively or just for fun, winter sports can be quite dangerous if proper safety precautions go ignored.
Sports injuries are the second most common reason people visit the emergency room. According to gathered data, nearly 3.8 million people were injured in winter sports in the United States alone in a recent year. Millions more were affected in regions where colder weather is prominent, such as Canada and Iceland. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reported on data gathered from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, noting these 2018 figures:
- 76,000 injuries from snow skiing
- 53,000 injuries from snowboarding
- 48,000 injuries from ice skating
- 22,000 injuries from sledding and tobogganing
During the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the news reported an extensive list of injuries that sidelined one athlete after another. Unfortunately, some people died as a result of their injuries. It is important to remember that if a trained athlete can get hurt partaking in winter sports, anybody can sustain an injury at any time. The key to avoiding the most common injuries while skating and skiing is to follow injury prevention guidelines.
Some of the injuries that can occur while participating in winter sports are:
The risk of a concussion is prevalent when participating in many sports. Still, on an annual basis, over 23,500 concussions are caused by participating in winter sports, with children accounting for one-third of all cases.
Concussions are the leading cause of mortality and disability in skiers and snowboarders despite their rare occurrence compared to other winter sports injuries. Checking for signs of brain injury when someone takes a fall is crucial, and some of the things to watch out for are:
- Blurred vision
- Swelling at the site of the injury
While most of them occur when a skier or snowboarder falls on their way down the mountain, someone who is skating or playing ice hockey may sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) if their head hits the hard icy floor. Wearing a helmet during these activities can help prevent concussions or TBI's.
Upon hitting a hard surface like ice, you risk dislocating your shoulder. Your shoulder is less stable because its joints have more mobility than others. For that reason, it's easier for it to get dislocated, which means that a solid hit that wouldn't affect another joint could affect the shoulder. Furthermore, 40% of dislocated shoulders have nearby ligament or muscle injuries.
Skiers are more likely to dislocate a shoulder, but other winter activities can be just as responsible. For example, skaters who fall on the ice or hockey players who collide with other players may sustain the same injury. Not only is a dislocated shoulder excruciatingly painful, but delaying medical attention for too long may result in a frozen, or completely immobile, shoulder. For this reason, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial after a hard fall or impact on the shoulder.
Spinal injuries can be quite severe and can cause massive disruptions to your day-to-day life. A ligament or muscle sprain/strain is excruciatingly painful and can keep you off your feet for weeks. On the other hand, a fracture or dislocation could cause spinal cord damage and result in partial or complete paralysis.
Skiers, particularly those on steep slopes, are especially vulnerable to spinal injuries. However, snowboarding and other high-intensity winter sports can cause back injuries, so it is vital to take the necessary precautions and evaluate which slope is appropriate for your skill level before partaking in that activity.
Dislocated or Broken Elbow
While elbow injuries are commonly associated with summer sports such as baseball and tennis, they also affect winter athletes. If you stretch out your hands to avoid slamming into something or to break a fall, it could result in a serious injury. If the impact is severe enough, you may sustain a fracture in the upper or lower arm near the elbow, as well as a dislocated elbow when the joint is pushed out of its normal position. Intense pain, swelling at the elbow, and the inability to bend or straighten your arm are all symptoms of both.
When skiing, your hands, and wrists are frequently utilized. As a result, they are more susceptible to injury than if you were skating or sledding. As a result, the most common hand injury – a torn ligament in the thumb – is known as a skier's thumb. After knee sprains, it is the second-most common injury among skiers. It could happen when a skier falls and bends their hand back to keep a grip on the ski pole. The thumb ligament tears and, in some cases, the phalanx (thumb bone) fractures as a result. Some falls are so severe that the wrist bends backward, resulting in a fracture or sprain that makes hand movement extremely difficult.
When imagining how much shock your knees have to absorb during a strenuous winter activity like skiing or skating, it is no shock that knee injuries are among the most common winter sports injuries. The knees work hard during a typical sporting activity and are already susceptible to strains and pain from overuse. However, if you fall, your chances of injury increase even more. The following are some of the most common knee injuries sustained while participating in winter sports:
- A sprained ligament in the back, inside, outside, or front of the knee
- A torn meniscus, which is the cartilage that connects the bones of the knee joint
- Kneecap fracture, either on the lower end of the femur (thigh bone) or on the upper end of the tibia (calf bone)
- When the bones of the knee joint separate, commonly referred to as a dislocation
Ankle Sprains and Fractures
Every day, 25,000 people in the United States sprain or fracture their ankles. These ankle injuries are often a result of slip/trip and fall accidents caused by walking or running on uneven surfaces or stepping on a slick surface. The risk of such injuries increases when participating in activities at an ice rink or on snow. Ankle injuries are so common to snowboarders that a fracture of the Talus bone – located above the heel bone on the outside of the ankle–is commonly referred to as a snowboarder's ankle.
Mild sprains can be treated with just an ice pack and elevation, whereas fractures typically require a cast and weeks of rest to heal. In either case, it's critical to seek early treatment and remain off your feet, or else you run the risk of developing more serious issues that make it difficult to walk.
Winter Sports Safety Tips
We should practice and observe winter sports safety protocols to prevent any injuries from happening. Our responsibility is to look after ourselves and stay safe when taking part in activities that may be risky. Here are some noteworthy winter sports safety practices that you should keep in mind the next time you go out there:
- Never participate in a winter sport by yourself.
- Before engaging in winter activities, stay in shape and condition your muscles.
- Before playing or participating, you should warm up thoroughly. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are vulnerable to injury when cold.
- Wear appropriate safety equipment, such as goggles, helmets, gloves, and padding.
- Before using the equipment, ensure that it is in good working order.
- Obtain warmth and protection by layering light, loose clothing that is water and wind-resistant. Layering allows you to adjust to your body's ever-changing temperature. In addition, wear appropriate footwear that provides warmth, dryness, and ample ankle support.
- Understand and follow all of the rules of the sport you are participating in.
- Take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially if skiing or snowboarding for the first time. Learning how to fall correctly and safely can help you avoid getting hurt.
- Keep an eye out for warnings about impending storms and severe temperature drops.
- If you are experiencing hypothermia or frostbite, seek shelter and medical help right away.
- Ascertain that everyone is aware of the proper procedures for seeking assistance in the event of an injury.
- Before, during, and after activities, drink plenty of water.
- When you're in pain or exhausted, don't participate in winter sports.
Participating in winter sports can be fun and serve as a means to get out of the house during the colder months. First, however, be sure to avoid winter sports-related injuries by practicing proper safety measures. These suggestions may save your life.
Speaking with a personal injury attorney is extremely important if you are injured after an accident. The Connecticut injury lawyers at Hastings, Cohan & Walsh are always willing to give free advice to those who seek it. Call our Ridgefield office at (203) 438-7450 or click here for a free case evaluation.