Avoid the emergency room: ways to prevent winter sports injuries

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Winter sports enthusiasts have likely been embracing the nation's recent cold front. Many travel destinations popular among North Texas families are in great shape for activities and adventure sports like skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating and hockey.

"About 10 million Americans partake in skiing and snowboarding each winter and some 600,000 injuries are reported each year. The concerning part is that 20% of those injuries are head traumas, which are the most preventable and the leading cause of death in snow sports," says Bartley David Mitchell, MD, endovascular neurosurgeon with the Methodist Brain and Spine Institute. "Prevention is far and away the best policy for keeping people safe. The single best way to prevent a head injury, such as a concussion, is to wear a helmet every time you go out."

According to Dr. Mitchell, who happens to be a skiing enthusiast, in the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a jump from about 25% of skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets, to almost 80% wearing helmets. (The young adult age group 18-24 lags behind at 60% of participants wearing a helmet). Ironically, head injuries have increased during the same period, but can be attributed to people skiing faster, higher and more frequently off-trail.

Before heading out to enjoy these winter activities, brush up on common injury hazards and best practices to prevent an injury this winter.

Skiing & Snowboarding

Downhill skiing enthusiasts are prone to knee injuries, especially to the ACL, due to bad falls and errant skis. It's natural to try and use your arms to break a fall, which can lead to a dislocated shoulder and rotator cuff injuries. Losing control and excessive speed are the two main factors of most ski and snowboard injuries. Both sports have a high occurrence of concussions, either from falls or running into stationary objects such as trees.

Injury prevention tips:

  • Before venturing out for the first time each season, have a ski shop check and adjust your equipment, especially the fit of your bindings.
  • Wear goggles and a proper helmet
  • Snowboarders should wear gloves with wrist guards
  • Know your skill level and stay on the trails designated for your ability
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that snowboarding be reserved for children over 7 years of age

Hockey & Ice Skating

In hockey, colliding with other players, the ice or rink equipment can result in a number of injuries ranging from bruises, cuts and pulled muscles to more serious injuries like torn ligaments, dislocated or broken bones, broken teeth and concussions.

Ice skating for most of us is recreational, but still carries the risk of injury. Ill-fitting skates are a common culprit for ankle issues and wrists are at risk as it's a natural reaction to reach out with our hands to break a fall. Helmets aren't typically worn when ice skating, but for novice skaters or children, a simple bike helmet could help prevent head traumas.

Injury prevention tips:

  • Wear the appropriate protective gear at all times during a hockey practice or game
  • Make sure everyone follows the same rules of the game to keep players safe
  • Knee and elbow pads and wrist guards for ice skating can prevent strains and sprains

Sledding

The quintessential wintertime activity of sledding may seem like it's without risk, but it could be dangerous to not consider all the factors of a good sledding location.

Running into stationary objects such as fences, trees, rocks or parked cars can result various head and limb injuries. Don't forget that collisions can occur at the bottom of the hill just as easily as on the way down.

Injury prevention tips:

  • Avoid unsafe sledding locations such as near streets, parking lots and bodies of water such as ponds
  • Find a location that has plenty of space at the bottom of the hill as well as an obstacle free slope
  • Sledding face-first on your stomach is the most injury prone position, instead sit in a forward facing position
  • Invest in a sled that has runners and a steering mechanism and always wear a helmet

General winter activity safety tips:

  • Avoid participating alone
  • Keep in shape and condition your muscles before beginning a winter activity
  • Don't skip stretching and warming up before you play; cold muscles are more prone to injury
  • In addition to helmets, wear the appropriate gear - goggles, gloves, padding, etc.
  • Check your equipment - examine the condition and fit of your gear
  • Wear several layers of light, breathable water and/or wind resistant clothing. Layering allows for the body's constantly fluctuating temperature.
  • Choose proper footwear for warmth, dryness and ankle support
  • Consider taking a lesson (or lessons) in the sport you are wanting to participate in
  • Learning proper fall techniques can dramatically reduce your risk of injury
  • Don't ignore weather conditions or advisories
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure you drink enough water before, during and after your activities
  • Stay aware of your energy levels - many injuries result from taking that one last run or turn on the ice
  • Know the signs of frostbite: numbness and tingling in your fingers or toes and the inability to move well.
  • Know the signs of hypothermia: shivering, clumsiness, slurred speech or mumbling, confusion and drowsiness or low energy.

Remember, Methodist Urgent Care can treat cuts, sprains, broken bones, and concussions. Find the closest location to you before you get hurt. Go to MethodistUrgentCare.com.

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