Common Injuries of Skiing and Snowboarding

Winter Sports Pain and Injury Treatment and Prevention

Male snowboarder falling over on mountain
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Both skiing and snowboarding can result in sports injuries, but they tend to have slightly different injury patterns. Skiers are more likely to have knee injuries (from twisting motion during falls), and snowboarders tend to have more upper body injuries (as a result of falling on an outstretched hand). There are also many injuries common to both types of winter athletes. Here are common injuries.

Knee

Skiers are more prone to knee injuries as it involves more twisting and turning. A sign of these injuries is a popping sound during the motion.

  • Anterior and Posterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL/PCL) Injuries: These are injuries to the ligaments that stabilize the knee, and often happen with sudden twisting while the feet are planted. ACL injuries are often treated conservatively, but in the case of a complete tear, reconstruction may be needed.
  • Injuries to the Meniscus: The meniscus is the cartilage in your knee that allows smooth motion. A tear can happen with sudden twisting motions. Treatment is usually conservative, but large tears may require surgery.

Head, Neck, and Shoulder

Many of these injuries happen during falls. Winter sports are fraught with falls, so you are always at risk of these injuries.

  • Concussion: Falls while skiing or snowboarding can result in a brain injury. Any blow to the head needs to be carefully monitored. These are best prevented by wearing a helmet.
  • Whiplash: Sudden stops can cause this hyperextension injury. It needs to be assessed by a doctor.
  • Neck Strain: This can be part of a whiplash injury and may take a couple of days to produce symptoms. You should be assessed by a doctor.
  • Shoulder Fracture (Fractured Clavicle): A broken collarbone can happen in a fall.
  • Torn Rotator Cuff: This shoulder injury can happen due to repetitive strain or in a fall.
  • Shoulder Separation: This injury can happen when falling on an outstretched hand. It is usually treated conservatively with rest, ice, and a sling.
  • Shoulder Dislocation: This injury is to a different area of the joint than a separation and it requires reduction. Then, depending on the degree of injury, either conservative treatment or surgery may be needed.

Hand

Your hands are at risk when you fall while skiing and snowboarding.

  • Skier’s Thumb: This is an acute injury that often happens when falling with your hand in the ski pole strap. Your thumb can get caught and pulled away from the hand, which can cause a ligament tear. This can result in difficulty with grasping. Treatment is often with a cast or splint, but surgery may be required.
  • Wrist Sprains: Falls can result in sprains, which are usually treated conservatively.
  • Finger Fractures: These also can happen during a fall. Treatment is usually with splinting, but reduction or surgery may be required.

Back

Skiing and snowboarding require a lot of twisting and maneuvering on slippery surfaces, which increases the risk of a back injury.

  • Low Back Pain: Forceful movements are one cause of low back pain, and you may sustain an injury from overuse, falls, or when getting up awkwardly after a fall.
  • Herniated Disks: A fall might result in this injury. Often, it will be treated conservatively, but surgery may be recommended.

Other Injuries

  • Frostbite and Hypothermia: You are at risk of these when you are out in the cold. Be sure to wear appropriate gear to protect exposed skin and ensure you keep warm enough. You don't want to sacrifice your fingers, toes, or nose.
  • Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness: Whenever you exert yourself or start a new form of activity, you may feel muscle aches a day or two later.

Preventing Skiing and Snowboarding Injuries

The best way to prevent skiing or snowboarding injuries is with proper conditioning programs that are begun before you hit the slopes.

 You also want to be sure that you warm up before you head down the slope, as cold muscles will be at more risk of an injury. Beginners need lessons from a qualified instructor that will show you how to fall safely and reduce your risk of injury. 

Always wear a helmet to protect your head, as winter sports are very prone to falls. Using the appropriate gear and clothing can help protect you from the elements. Always have a friend with you on the slopes, as many of these injuries will incapacitate you and you will need help in getting medical assistance.

Source:

Winter Sports Injury Prevention. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00062.

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