Staying safe and preventing injuries whilst enjoying winter sports.

From skiing or snowboarding down glistening white slopes to gliding across an ice rink with friends, winter sports are some most thrilling activities you can take part in.
But they also come with unique safety risks because of bulky equipment, icy surfaces and cold environments. Unfortunately, thousands of people suffer injuries from participating in outdoor winter sports every year.

The most common injuries include fractures, sprains, strains, concussions and joint dislocations. Injuries vary from sport to sport, for example, skiers are more likely to suffer knee injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, whereas snowboarders suffer from injured wrists and shoulder dislocations. Less serious injuries include strains or muscle stretches, or just general pain and difficulty in moving in the knees, shoulders and other joints.

In many cases these injuries are avoidable, often by following some simple precautions like staying warm and hydrated, taking it slow and learning how to fall properly”, says Professor Len Funk, shoulder surgeon from The Wilmslow Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK.

I agree, in winter sports, preparation really is key to avoiding injury. I see so many knee injuries that could have been avoided by something as simple as warming up and stretching properly ” adds his colleague Mr Neil Jain, consultant orthopaedic surgeon.

Here, Professor Funk and Mr Jain share their top tips to help you stay safe while enjoying your favourite winter sports and activities.

Follow the safety guidelines

Make sure that you know, understand and follow safety guidelines for your particular sport. For example, stay within the marked ski and snowboard trails, and learn how to safely get on and off the ski lift.

Always wear the appropriate safety gear for the activity, like helmets, goggles, wrist guards, and knee and/or elbow pads. 

And test your equipment before going on your first run to ensure everything is in good condition without any obvious defects. This includes your skis, snowboard, ice skates, sled and anything else you’re relying on to work properly. Defective gear is an accident waiting to happen so it needs to be properly maintained.

Learn how to fall

Learning how to fall, because it happens a lot, is one of the best skills you can have when it comes to winter sports. I see so many shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries which happened to the person when trying to brace during a fall. A trained instructor will be able to provide direction on how to fall correctly, for example, a ski instructor will tell you to fall forward, not backward, to reduce the risk on your limbs. Taking time out to learn how to fall will pay off in the long run.

Warm up and stretch

Make sure to warm up cold muscles with some light exercise or stretching prior to starting. Stretching and warmup exercises are essential for avoiding injury in any physical activity, but they are particularly important when exerting yourself in low temperatures as cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more prone to injury. 

You will no doubt be eager to get going but take your time, don’t go from zero to one hundred. Your muscles get tighter in the cold and need more time to loosen up, so spend more time warming up than you would when exercising in the warm. Warm up with light exercises or stretches, and ease into the activity. Your warmup routine could include:

  • Stretching your arms, legs and back
  • Arm circles
  • Twisting your upper body
  • Squats
  • Jumping rope or running in place

Also, focus on the muscles that will get the most use. For example, warm up your arms more when you’re planning to ski, or do more leg stretches if you’re skating or snowboarding.

Wear multiple breathable layers to insulate your body

Wearing the right clothes is as important as having skis that fit. I would recommend that you wear a breathable base layer, then add a couple of insulating layers. Then on top wear a wind and waterproof outer layer to ensure you stay warm and dry. You can always remove layers if it gets warmer but you can’t add them on once you’re on the slopes, so remember to dress for warmth and then you can remove layers if needed.

Also make sure the clothes aren’t too tight as they can constrict your movement and choose breathable and synthetic fabrics for each item, this is so they can release the heat trapped inside and dry more quickly - clothes that become damp from sweat can lower your body temperature.

And be sure to wear sunscreen and the appropriate socks and footwear too.

Refuel and recover

A simple but important one; while you’re out enjoying some winter fun, take frequent breaks to hydrate, refuel and recover. This will give overworked muscles a break and allow them to keep going. And as tempting as it is when you are in a beautiful mountain setting, don’t take any alcohol until you have finished your days activity and have taken off your equipment.

Know your limits

If you’re tired or experiencing any pain it’s time to stop; accidents are more likely to occur when you’re fatigued so don't push yourself to do ‘one last run’ or lap.

And be aware of your experience level, make sure you stay on ski runs which match your level of experience and manoeuvres which match your skill level. Many injuries occur because people were unable to control their speed or when something was just beyond their abilities. You might want to challenge yourself, but it’s not worth putting your health at risk.

When accidents happen

Sometimes, despite taking precautions and being safe, accidents still happen and people get hurt. When that happens, the first step is to get help immediately. 

The second step is to find the best treatment for your injury. At The Wilmslow Hospital our orthopaedic specialists work together to diagnose and treat the full range of orthopaedic issues, providing the very best care to help you get back to your life.

Our orthopaedic care services at The Wilmslow Hospital cover all areas of the musculoskeletal system, such as hip and pelvis, knee, shoulder elbow, the spine, the hand and wrist, the foot and ankle and the peripheral nerve.

If you are concerned about a new injury or pain, or have an ongoing, chronic issue which is impacting your daily life, speak to a member of the team at The Wilmslow Hospital to arrange a consultation with a leading orthopaedic consultant.

Call 01625 545 000 for more information. 

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