With basketball, wrestling, and other indoor sports on hold, people will seek outdoor adventures this winter. And with more outside activities, there are bound to be more winter-sports related injuries.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you hit the slopes, glide across the ice, or swoosh through the trails.
No matter how you choose to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, take a few precautions, and stay safer as you enjoy Wisconsin’s wintery weather.
Check the Conditions – Whether you are venturing to wooded cross-country ski trails or you’re snowshoeing across a frozen lake, check the conditions. Don’t get caught in severe weather or break through the ice.
Stay Warm – Dress in layers. And dress for the weather. Make sure the clothing next to your skin wicks moisture away. Dressing in layers will help you regulate your temperature, so you don’t get sweaty and catch a chill.
Know Where You’re Going – If you’re snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in an unfamiliar place, ask someone who knows the area about pitfalls and signs along the trail.
Share your plans with your friends and family members. Let people know where you’re going; when you’ll be there; and when you’ll be back. Check-in at key points to let people know you’re alright.
Use the Buddy System – Being active is more fun with a friend. Ask someone to join you on a snowshoe hike, cross-country ski trip, or snowboarding adventure.
Use Protective Gear – Wear helmets, elbow pads, knee pads, and other gear suitable for your activity to help prevent injury this winter.
Take Frequent Breaks and Stop When You’re Tired – It’s a fact. Injuries happen when muscles are tired. Take frequent breaks to conserve your energy.
If you’re having second thoughts about that last trip down the hill, it might be a good idea to call it quits for the day. Overtaxed muscles may give out at the worse possible moment, causing strains, sprains, dislocations, and broken bones. Any of these injuries can take you off the slopes and trails for the rest of the year.
Many winter sports involve speed. Even the non-motorized sports like downhill and cross-country skiing, sledding, ice skating, tubing, or snowshoeing can result in a severe injury like concussion when speed combines with the loss of control.
Taking a few precautions this winter can help you stay safer and avoid some of the most common winter-related sports injuries, like those below.
Sprains, strains, and tears
The most common type of injury during winter sports activities are sprains and strains.
Sprains occur when the ligaments and tendons connecting bone to bone or muscle to bone are stretched beyond their normal limits.
Strains occur when muscles are pulled beyond their normal range of motion.
Sprains and strains can happen to any joint, but ankles are particularly susceptible. The ankle is a complex joint; not only can it move up and down, but it can also move side-to-side, making it more prone to rolling injuries. One misstep can twist the ankle in the wrong direction stretching the ligaments and tendons holding the ankle bones in place.
But ankles are not the only joints that suffer frequent injuries. Winter sports and icy falls also can take a toll on the knees.
Torn ligaments in the front of the knee (Anterior cruciate ligament or ACL), the back of the knee (posterior cruciate ligament or PCL), or in the meniscus cartilage of the knee often require surgical repair.
From hands to hips, all joints can be dislocated. Dislocations are extremely painful and need immediate and specialized orthopedic medical treatment to avoid long-term loss of movement.
Once a person experiences a dislocated joint, the risk of future dislocations in that same joint increase.
Falling at odd angles or high speeds cause dislocations. Shoulder joints are most susceptible. This joint is the most flexible and the least stable.
But all joints are at risk. A direct hit during a fall can shove the bones in the elbows and knees out of place. Even hips, the strongest of all joints, can be dislocated. A hard hit from the side or a fall on an outstretched leg can force the leg bones out of the hip socket.
Whether you’ve dislocated your finger or your hip, it’s important to seek medical attention to make sure the bones are moved properly back in place. An orthopedic specialist can also assess the damage to the ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues surrounding the joint. Sometimes surgery is needed to repair rips and tears in the connecting tissues.
Broken joints and broken bones
Can you really break a joint? Yes!
With enough force, a break can happen close to the joint, causing intense pain. When breaks happen, it’s important to work with an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible. These specialists can help minimize the loss of mobility.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a rise in the number of ankle fractures occurring while snowboarding has led to a diagnosis of “snowboarders’ ankle.” The condition describes the fracture of the talus and is often overlooked, which can lead to a loss of movement later in life.
People who use poles when they walk or ski are more susceptible to skier’s thumb during a fall. Skier’s thumb, also called gamekeeper’s thumb, occurs when the thumb bends beyond its normal range of motion, stretching or tearing the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) that keeps the thumb in place. A severe bend can also break bones in the thumb and the wrist. Since the thumb is critical to many hand movements, it’s important to see an orthopedic specialist right away to preserve function.
Back and Spine Injuries
Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention back injuries. Whether you trip while walking on the sidewalk or collide with someone or something while skiing down the slopes, you can experience a severe back injury. These injuries can cause mild discomfort or be severe, life-limiting, and lead to paralysis.
No matter how an injury occurs, if it involves a bone, joint, or muscle, it’s wise to see an orthopedic specialist for care if it involves a bone, joint, or muscle.
Orthopedic and sports medicine specialists know and understand body mechanics. They can make sure the first steps in your treatment will help you recover with the greatest range of motion and function possible.