Ski Injury Prevention Tips from Drs. Skendzel, Su, Rupke, and Warner
These ski injury prevention tips will help keep you safe on the slopes.
Ski injury prevention addresses a range of potential skiing injuries
Minnesotans embrace winter and the sports designed for our snowy season. But gliding gracefully down snow-covered runs is not risk-free. The Summit physicians on the official medical team for the Afton Alps and Team Afton skiers have ski injury prevention tips to help you safely enjoy this popular winter sport.
“Snow skiing comes with a broad range of injury risks,” says sports medicine surgeon Dr. Jack Skendzel, lead physician on the Summit’s Afton team. “Knee injuries, particularly of the anterior cruciate ligament, are very common.”
Hand and wrist injuries
“Sliding and falling go hand in hand,” says Dr. Edward Su. “Because we instinctively use our arms to break a fall, our practice sees skiers and snowboarders with wrist sprains and fractures almost every day. Skier’s thumb is another condition I see often. This injury is a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb. It occurs when skiers fall onto their hands. Not every skier’s thumb injury needs surgery, but it is best to have thumb sprains evaluated soon. If left untreated, a ligament tear could result in long-term instability and arthritis. Falling on an arm doesn’t only injure the hand and wrist. We also see shoulder and elbow dislocations and sprains coming in from the slopes.”
Injuries to the shoulder while skiing or snowboarding are most often the result of a fall or collision. “Collision injuries occur when an athlete hits an object like a tree—or another skier,” notes Dr. Warner. “One of the more common shoulder injuries I see in skiers is a fractured collarbone. These fractures often require surgery to restore full function.”
“Fortunately, ankle fractures in this sport are relatively rare compared to upper extremity fractures,” says ankle specialist Dr. Tracy Rupke. “However, snowboarders are vulnerable to a particular fracture of the lateral process of the talus because their boots are softer and because both boots are tied into the board. These fractures can be very difficult to see on an X-ray and are often misdiagnosed. That’s why it’s important to see an orthopedic surgeon soon when you injure your ankle. These subtle fractures can cause significant long-term problems if missed.”
Skiing-related head injuries can be particularly serious. That’s why helmets designed for skiers are a critical component of ski injury prevention.
Summit’s ski injury prevention tips for skiers of all ages
“At Summit, providing education about sport safety and injury prevention is our highest priority,” says Dr. Skendzel. “Drs. Rupke, Warner, Su, and I have safety tips that will benefit skiers of every age and every level of experience.”
Choose the right equipment
Use boots and bindings that have been maintained following American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards. “Check the binding of each ski and make sure they are adjusted to your height, weight, and skiing ability,” advises Dr. Rupke. “Bindings that are too tight will not release and increase the risk of knee ligament injuries and leg fractures. Bindings that are too loose can be hazardous as well; they could release prematurely.”
“I encourage snowboarders to wear wrist guards,” adds Dr. Su. “Wrist guards can help prevent many of the minor injuries I treat. More importantly, wrist guards can lessen the seriousness of more severe injuries.”
Always wear a sport-specific helmet and goggles. “Ski helmets are engineered to blunt the force of head trauma,” explains Dr. Brent Warner. “Although they can’t eliminate injury risk, they can decrease injury severity by minimizing face, head, and spine injuries.”
Dress for cold weather
Wear several layers of light, loose, water- and wind-resistant clothing.
Don’t neglect your warm-up
“Cold muscles are more prone to injury,” warns Dr. Warner. “Jumping jacks, a few minutes of running or walking, or a few easy ski runs are good ways to prepare for more demanding runs. And don’t forget to drink water before, during, and after skiing. Being dehydrated can increase your risk of injury.”
Learn ski lift safety
Before your outing, know how to properly get on and off a lift.
Know the safety rules of the ski resort
Review resort guidelines and general safety rules of skiing. These include knowing how to safely stop, merge, and yield to other skiers.
Maintain control by choosing ski runs that match your ability level
Many injuries occur when a person is struck by an out-of-control skier or snowboarder.
Take ski lessons
“This is especially important for new skiers,” notes Dr. Su. “It may seem obvious, but the sooner you can learn to control yourself on skis or a snowboard, the less likely it is that you will fall. Even experienced skiers can improve by taking a lesson.”
Assess your skill level and know when to call it a day
Make sure you are in good physical condition. “If you aren’t at the top of your game, take that into account when you choose your ski run,” suggests Dr. Warner. “Start with less challenging runs and build your way up as your strength and endurance improve. Stop skiing when you are tired or in pain. Many ski injuries occur at the end of the day, when athletes try to get one more run in against their better judgment.”
Skiing is an exhilarating sport that can be safely enjoyed by beginners as well as experienced competitors. “With the proper equipment, training, and an understanding of the rules for safety on the slopes, skiing is a terrific activity for the entire family,” says Dr. Skendzel. “All of us at Summit are honored to offer ski injury prevention tips to help everyone make the most of Minnesota’s skiing season.”
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