Winter sports are a great way to stay active during colder months, as long as you participate with common sense and caution. Do not take on more than your skill level will safely allow, and wear protective equipment to ensure you can enjoy your sport for the full winter season!
Before heading out on a ski vacation, most people prepare by reserving a room, booking a flight, packing their winter clothes and their skis. However, if you do not prepare your body, you might end up spending more time in the doctor’s office than on the slopes.
More than 440,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and emergency rooms for winter sports-related injuries in 2010, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Here are some statistics:

  • 144,000 injuries from snow skiing
  • 148,000 injuries from snow boarding
  • 58,500 injuries from ice skating
  • 91,000 injuries from sledding and tobogganing

Common winter sports injuries include sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures. Many of these injuries happen at the end of the day, when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run before the day’s end. A majority of these injuries can easily be prevented if participants prepare for their sport by keeping in good physical condition, staying alert, and stopping when they are tired or in pain.
There are many things you can do to help prevent injury during favorite winter activities.

  1. Never participate alone in a winter sport.
  2. Keep in shape and condition muscles before participating in winter activities.
  3. Warm up thoroughly before playing or participating. Cold muscles, tendons, and ligaments are vulnerable to injury.
  4. Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding.
  5. Check that equipment is working properly prior to use.
  6. Wear several layers of light, loose and water- and wind-resistant clothing for warmth and protection. Layering allows you to accommodate your body’s constantly changing temperature. Wear proper footwear that provides warmth and dryness, as well as ample ankle support.
  7. Know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating.
  8. Take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially in sports like skiing and snow boarding. Learning how to fall correctly and safely can reduce the risk of injury.
  9. Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature to ensure safety.
  10. Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you, or anyone with you, is experiencing hypothermia or frostbite. Make sure everyone is aware of proper procedures for getting help, if injuries occur.
  11. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after activities.
  12. Avoid participating in sports when you are in pain or exhausted.

Understanding a few common injuries may help you avoid them and get the most out of your season.
Knee and Ankle Injuries: Downhill skiing and snowboarding can be quite a rush but a bad fall can cause a substantial injury to your knees and ankles. An ankle sprain can be more painful and take longer to heal than an actual fracture at the ankle. Of the nearly 144,000 skiing injuries reported per year, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are the most common. Tears or ruptures of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) or Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) of the knee are some of the most debilitating injuries and often require surgery.
Finger, Hand and Wrist Injuries: When skiing or skating, it is very easy to break your wrist or fingers. The straps of the ski pole could lead to an injury to your wrist or a tear to the ligaments of your thumb. Skier’s thumb is a common injury that occurs when skiers fall awkwardly on their hands while holding a ski pole. This results in an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear which is a ligament on the inside of the thumb. To prevent this, make sure your ski strap stays below your wrist.
Lower Back Injuries: Cold weather constricts muscles and diminishes flexibility. Failing to warm up properly and overworking your body may result in back pain. Improper posture can also stress the back resulting in a strain or sprain. A fall can damage vertebrae or compress the discs in your back, leading to a more serious back injury. Keeping the back and abdominal muscles strong before you start your winter activities will give you the muscular endurance you will need for a full day of fun in the snow.
Working with an ApexNetwork physical therapist can help you avoid a winter injury. They will begin by evaluating your trunk and lower extremity strength, endurance, balance and flexibility to diagnose and identify any muscle imbalances that could predispose you to injury as we head closer to the holiday season. Then they will develop a customized treatment plan to help you prepare for the winter sports season. Contact one of our local clinics to set up an appointment and start your winter sports season on the right path.
Sources: (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), December 2011),,