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Don’t Let Injury Sideline You From the Slopes

Knee injuries and broken wrists are common among skiers and snowboarders, but experts say being prepared and aware can help reduce your injury risk.
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With cooler air and increasing rainfall moving into the valley and the foothills in recent weeks, that can only mean one thing up in the mountains – winter sports season is here!

Whether you are a skier, a boarder, a skater, or a sledder, experts remind you to be mindful of your health and safety while on the slopes.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, roughly 200,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctors’ offices, and emergency rooms for injuries related to winter sports in 2018 (the last year the data was available). Those injuries include:



  • 76,000 injuries from snow skiing
  • 53,000 injuries from snowboarding
  • 48,000 injuries from ice skating
  • 22,000 injuries from sledding and tobogganing

Dr. Todd Christensen, orthopedic surgeon with Dignity Health Medical Foundation – Sierra Nevada, says in our community, injuries related to snowboarding and skiing often lead people to seek care in his office.

“For skiers, knee ligament injuries seem to be the most common injury,” he says.



Dr. Christensen explains that the twisting that can happen to your knee when your leg is locked into a ski boot but your body falls in the opposite direction is usually to blame.

“That can cause a sprain or even a tear of your ACL or MCL [knee ligaments],” he explains. “You know there’s a problem if you feel a pop and see swelling on the knee right away. You may still be able to walk somewhat, but if you see swelling, you need to get it looked at.”

While a torn MCL can be treated with a brace, a torn ACL usually requires surgery to reconstruct the ligament. But Dr. Christensen says for some patients, surgery may not actually be necessary.

“If you are older and have a certain body type, you may be able to get away without reconstructing it,” he says. “That is a conversation I may have with patients who are in their 60s or 70s.”

Another injury common to skiers is a sprained or torn thumb ligament, specifically the ulnar collateral ligament. This band of tissue is attached to the middle joint of the thumb and keeps your thumb stable so that you can pinch and grasp things – including your ski pole.

“If a skier falls while their hand is holding the pole, the thumb may jam into the pole, back and away from the index finger,” Dr. Christensen explains. “This can tear the ligament, which makes it difficult to open a door or twist a knob. It creates a general lack of stability in the thumb.”

Anyone experiencing that type of thumb injury should have their doctor look at it sooner rather than later.

“You want to be sure to get it checked out early, within the first two weeks,” Dr. Christensen explains. ‘’If needed, your surgeon can easily suture the ligament back together. If you wait a few months, scar tissue will develop and that makes the repair much more challenging.”

For snowboarders, injuries tend to be more pronounced. “The faster you are going, the more likely you are to break something,” Dr. Christensen says.

In addition, because snowboarders are falling with both feet attached to one board, they are more likely to suffer fall injuries affecting their wrists and arms.

Because of that, Dr. Christensen says a good first step for injury prevention among boarders is learning how to fall.

“Ask an instructor to show you how to do a good dive roll,” he explains. “If you dive roll when you fall, you won’t absorb the force of the impact on your wrists.”

Bracing with your wrists can lead to the most common snowboard related injury – a radial fracture of the wrist or arm. While there are wrist guards available that can provide protection, Dr. Christensen says most boarders don’t wear them.

Another source of snowboarding injuries may surprise you – the lift line.

“It’s true – we’ve seen snowboarders who have torn their ACL because they got bumped while waiting in line,” Dr. Christensen says. “They’re at risk for that twisting type of injury because they have one foot loose and the other locked in.”

The best way to prevent that type of injury is simply being aware – always keeping an eye out for wayward skiers or boarders, even at the bottom of the slope.

According to the American College of Orthopaedic Surgeons, many snow sport injuries happen at the end of the day, when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run before the day’s end. Most winter sports 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.

Dr. Christensen says his best and most important piece of injury prevention advice is simple – wear a helmet.

“It’s just good common sense,” he says.

Don’t Be a Victim of a Holiday Mishap

The holiday season is a time for fun, family – and unfortunately, mishaps! According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 15,000 people end up in the Emergency Room every year because of injuries sustained while decorating for the holidays. And that doesn’t even include cooking accident, car crashes and other seasonal injuries.

The CPSC offers some great advice on how to avoid being the victim of a holiday mishap.

Climb Carefully: About 6,000 people are treated in the ER every year for holiday decorating related falls — usually when stringing up lights or taking them down, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those affected are predominantly men between the ages of 60 to 85. To avoid injury, check the ladder’s label to make sure you don’t exceed the weight limit; inspect the rungs before you climb to be sure they are solid and dry; and make sure the ladder is on even, solid footing before you climb. Have someone hold the ladder steady.

Monitor Open Flames: Menorah and other holiday candles are among the top causes of fire-related injuries and 2,200 deaths a year, according to the National Safety Council. Half of the December home decoration fires were started by candles, compared to one-third in January to November. The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve. Use sturdy, uncluttered candle holders; keep your hair and loose clothing — and curtains, stockings and kids! — away from flames.

Watch Your Tree: To avoid fire related to your Christmas tree, check each set of lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Don’t use more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord. Turn off all lights when you leave the house or go to bed. And dispose of fresh trees that are past their prime.

Other Decorating Dangers: “Angel hair” or tinsel is made from spun glass, and it can irritate your eyes and skin. Always wear gloves when handling it or substitute non-flammable cotton.

Plants — think poinsettias — can poison kids and pets. Keep them out of reach and immediately dispose of fallen leaves.


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