Skiing can be exciting for many, but its classification as an extreme sport means participants are prone to a range of musculoskeletal injuries. That is why it is important for those who like to ski to be aware of risks and potential injuries and how they occur so they can take steps to prevent a skiing injury.
From minor accidents to severe trauma with long-term effects on mobility, let’s take a look at the most common skiing injuries and how an everyday skier can take proper precautions.
Skiing and Your Body: How the Cold Affects Your Body
Plenty of factors impact your body and its performance, especially during the cold. Here’s how the cold can change your body and put you at risk of various types of injuries:
- Musculoskeletal: Cold temperatures can cause our muscles and joints to become stiff, which may increase the risk of injuries such as strains and sprains, particularly for movements that target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors.
- Circulatory: Our bodies adapt to cold environments by constricting blood vessels in the hands and feet to conserve heat. This can increase the risk of frostbite.
- Respiratory: Breathing in cold, dry air can cause your airways to constrict, making it harder to breathe. This can be challenging for those with asthma or other respiratory conditions.
- Energy: Skiers burn more calories than usual on the slopes because of the intense activity and their bodies working to maintain their core temperature. The increased energy expenditure puts skiers at risk of dehydration, fatigue, and hypothermia, especially when out for longer periods of time. This, in turn, makes them more prone to physical injuries while on the slopes.
What Are the Common Injuries That Skiers Face?
Every year, many skiers experience minor to severe musculoskeletal injuries. These are the most common types of injuries.
Knee injuries are one of the most common types of skiing injuries because of the nature of skiing. During a skiing accident, your body weight and the speed of your descent can create enough energy to twist your knee and cause bone and ligament damage.
Common injuries such as ACL or MCL tears develop when these ligaments (the tissue that connects bones and cartilage) partially or completely tear. Depending on the severity, some cases can heal with home care that involves regular rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).
However, some patients may need rehabilitation and must avoid stressing their knee joints in the long term. In extreme cases (such as athletes or those with severe knee injuries), surgery to repair the broken tissue may be necessary.
Skiers can sustain injuries during high-impact falls, collisions with other skiers, or through repeated improper techniques that put excess pressure on the shoulders. Skiers can develop common injuries, such as dislocations, fractures, and rotator cuff tears.
A dislocated shoulder results in the upper arm bone slipping out of the shoulder socket. While a qualified medical professional can put it back in place, there could potentially be damage to the surrounding ligaments and tendons. Falls and collisions could lead to fractures in the collarbone, shoulder blade, scapula, or upper arm bone. Skiers who put too much pressure or collide can injure the rotator cuff, which can lead to a tear that causes varying levels of pain when moved. Depending on the severity of the tear, treatment can range from RICE, pain management, and physical therapy to more major interventions like surgery.
One unique injury skiers could sustain is an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), or a “skier's thumb.” When a skier falls while holding onto their ski pole, the impact could strain or bend the thumb awkwardly. There’s also a risk of wrist injuries due to the impact.
Minor thumb injuries could be resolved with the RICE method, while more severe cases will require patients to wear a thumb splint or brace during their recovery. Patients may experience chronic pain, swelling, and limited mobility and strength. In cases of a UCL rupture or severe thumb dislocations, patients may need surgery to repair the damaged ligament and restore function.
Skiing accidents that result in collisions, high-impact falls, and other accidents can impact the head and neck. In case of severe head injuries, skiers should seek emergency medical attention as the accident can also affect their brain function. Some of the most common forms of skiing musculoskeletal head injuries include concussions, skull fractures, traumatic brain injuries, or hemorrhages.
If there are no neurological issues, treatment may consist of RICE and pain management practices while also avoiding strenuous physical activity. Those who have been in high-impact injuries may need close observation to spot any cognitive and neurological symptoms. More severe cases may require surgery and intensive care to prevent the risk of any permanent neurological damage.
Best Practices To Prevent Skiing Injuries
While there’s always some risk when skiing, taking these measures can reduce the risk of severe injuries:
- Assess Your Skill and Physical Fitness: Skiing is demanding; even running on the bunny slopes requires good physical fitness. Before you plan a ski trip, ask your primary healthcare provider if you are fit enough to ski. Conditioning your joints and muscles for weeks or months through strength workouts before your skiing trip can reduce the risk of strains.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing and Protective Equipment: Choose well-insulated winter sports attire for skiing. Make sure your clothes aren’t so tight that they restrict your movement and blood circulation, especially for your hands and feet. Wear wrist guards, knee pads, and a ski helmet to protect your joints and head.
- Mentally Prepare for Skiing: This means getting enough sleep the night before, eating a nutritious meal, staying hydrated, and not skiing while hungover or under the influence. It is also important to know your limits, so avoid pushing for one more run at the end of the day if you’re already tired or cold.
Skiing Injury? Let American Hip Institute Guide You Through Personalized Treatment and Recovery
Skiing can be fun, but it is important to be aware of the injuries skiers are prone to sustaining. Once skiers are aware of the risks, they can take the necessary measures to prioritize their safety on the slopes while still enjoying this exciting sport.
If you have sustained a skiing injury, the American Hip Institute offers a range of procedures and minimally invasive options to treat or manage the effects of your injury. Improve your quality of life today and call (833) 872-4477 to schedule an appointment with our orthopedic specialists.