Winter activities and sports are a great way to stay active during colder months if you participate with common sense and caution. However, do not take on more than your health and skill level will safely allow.
Before heading out on that long-awaited ski vacation, most people prepare by reserving a room, booking a flight, packing their winter clothes and 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.
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 440,000 people are treated annually at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and emergency rooms for winter-related injuries. Women and children appear to be at slightly higher risk than men.
For example, annually in the United States:
- 58,500 injuries from ice skating
- 91,000 injuries from sledding and tobogganing
- 144,000 injuries from snow skiing
- 148,000 injuries from snowboarding
- 28,000 injuries from shoveling snow that require a trip to the ER.
- Over 1,000,000 injuries from falling on the ice or snow
Common winter injuries include sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures. Unfortunately, many of these injuries happen at the end of the day, when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run down the slope or shovel that last bit of snow.
However, injuries can often be prevented if you prepare in advance for your activity, stop when tired, and stay alert for changes in conditions and the other people around you.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when engaging in winter activities.
1. Keep in shape and strengthen the lower extremities and torso before the winter season starts.
2. Warm up thoroughly before participating in your winter activity. Cold muscles, tendons, and ligaments are more vulnerable to injury.
3. Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves, and padding.
4. Check that equipment is working correctly before use.
5. Learn how to fall correctly and safely so you can reduce the risk of injury by falling on your side or buttocks and rolling rather than bracing yourself with your hands.
6. Avoid participating in activities when you are in pain or exhausted.
(American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, AAOS)
Understanding a few of the most common winter injuries may help you avoid them and get the most out of your season.
Knee and Ankle Injuries:
Downhill skiing, snowboarding, and sometimes just walking on an icy sidewalk can lead to a nasty fall, which 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. For example, 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 debilitating injuries and often require surgery. To help protect yourself from these injuries, have your sports equipment frequently inspected. Ensure that your footwear is the correct size, has good traction, and be sure to walk consciously. Your arms keep you balanced, so keep your hands out of your pockets and avoid carrying heavy loads.
Elbow, Finger, Hand, and Wrist Injuries:
It is easy to break your wrist or fingers when skiing, skating, or simply walking on an icy surface.
The most common injuries due to winter slips and falls are neck and back strain and a broken wrist, elbow, or hand. While falling, it is instinctive to try and catch yourself, landing on your hand incorrectly, causing the wrist, hand, or elbow to break.
Suppose you experience an injury while falling or develop pain that persists after the fall. In that case, it is essential to see a doctor or physical therapist and determine the type of injury and its severity. If you feel yourself starting to fall, try to avoid landing on your knees, wrists, or back. Try to fall on a fleshy part of your body, like your side. If you can relax your muscles when you fall, you may injure yourself less.
Lower Back Injuries:
Cold weather constricts muscles and diminishes flexibility. Failing to warm up properly and overworking your body may result in back pain or injury. Improper movement and 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 severe back injury. Keeping the back and abdominal muscles strong before starting your winter activities will give you the muscular endurance you need for a full day of activity.
You can start by jumping rope to prevent ACL tears, then progress to jumping side to side and back and forth over a pillow or small stool. Stepping sideways up and down on a step is another great way to strengthen the muscles around the knees. Correctly performed lunges and squats are excellent fundamental exercises for the back and lower extremities. Playing basketball or tennis improves your lateral movements while familiarizing the body with skiing motions.
Working with a trained and certified physical therapist from Innovate Physical Therapy can also help you avoid winter injuries. Our therapists can evaluate your trunk and lower extremity strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. They can diagnose and identify any muscle imbalances that could predispose you to injury. Then they will develop a customized treatment plan to help you prepare for the winter activities.
Individuals are treated in private rooms and have access to a warm water aquatic therapy pool and advanced strength and balance equipment. At Innovate Physical Therapy, we offer specialized programs to ensure individuals quickly progress to recovery. In addition to traditional therapy methods, we empower individuals with the necessary tools to take an active role in their health and wellness to continue with the life they want!
Contact us today to learn more about how our physical therapists can help you. Three convenient locations: Bellevue / Omaha /Lincoln