January 14, 2020

Staying Safe on the Slopes: Tips for Skiing and Snowboarding

boys on ski slopesBy Trisha McBride Ferguson

For skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, winter sports make the months of colder temperatures more bearable. Speeding down the slopes brings a rush of adrenaline, a feeling of freedom — and all too often, injuries. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe on the slopes this season.

Know the Risks

The most frequent physical injuries from skiing affect the upper and lower extremities. “Approximately one-quarter to one-third involve the knee. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries are common,” said Brent Fisher, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician with Asheville Orthopaedic Associates, an affiliate of Mission Health. Dr. Fisher also sees skiing enthusiasts come in with wrist and hand sprains, shoulder dislocations and head injuries — including concussions. “Ulnar collateral ligament injuries (skier’s thumb) are also very common,” Dr. Fisher said.

The majority of injured snowboarders arrive with wrist fractures, as well as some clavicle fractures. “The more common lower extremity injuries in snowboarders are foot and ankle-related — both sprains and fractures,” said Dr. Fisher.

Know When to See a Doctor

“Head and neck injuries account for between 8 and 33 percent of all skiing and snowboarding injuries,” said Dr. Fisher. “A large percentage of these are concussion/mild traumatic brain injuries.”

Since concussions are common, it’s important to know the signs. “Headache is the most common symptom,” said Dr. Fisher. “Others include dizziness, balance issues, mental fog, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and light- and sound-sensitivity.”

With the prevalence of concussion, it’s critical to know and heed the signs. “Although rare, the worst outcome from a concussion is second impact syndrome, where a second injury occurs before the brain has healed; this can lead to death,” explained Dr. Fisher. “Secondly, ignoring the symptoms and trying to push through them can significantly delay healing, causing lost productivity at school, work, etc.” Since most cases resolve in a week to 10 days, Dr. Fisher recommends patients who suspect a concussion have an evaluation and get the proper rest for full healing and recovery.

Know Your Limits

Protective gear is also critical for staying safe on the slopes. “Wear a helmet. They have not been proven to reduce the risk of concussions, but they have been shown to decrease risks of other head injuries,” said Dr. Fisher. “For snowboarders, wearing wrist guards have been shown to decrease wrist injuries by up to 50 percent. And for those with previous ACL reconstruction, wearing a knee brace has been shown to decrease risk of reinjury.”

If you’ve been skiing or snowboarding for several hours, make time to rest and recharge. “Bad mechanics and fatigue can increase injury risk, so as you get tired, it may be time for a break from the slopes to re-energize,” said Dr. Fisher.

Brent Fisher, MD, is a primary care sports medicine physician with Asheville Orthopaedic Associates, an affiliate of Mission Health.

Still sore from a sports injury a week ago? Get it checked out at Mission Health Orthopedics. To learn more, visit missionhealth.org/orthopedics.