Gearing Up for Winter Sport Safety

Each year, winter sports enthusiasts living in cold-weather climates eagerly anticipate the first snowfall of the season. For many, waking up to a winter wonderland means it’s time to hop on a sled, ride the ski lift or lace up the ice skates. But with this excitement comes the need to remind yourself and your family about important precautions to avoid injury and stay warm.

No matter what your age, exposure to cold temperatures and taking part in winter sports can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. Each year hundreds of thousands of Americans seek medical care for injuries resulting from popular winter sports.

Common Injuries

Most cold weather sport injuries result from falls. Other causes include collisions with others on the mountain or the ice skating rink, incidents involving ski lifts and a general tendency to overexert oneself. The most common types of injuries involve the musculoskeletal system—our bones, muscles and joints, along with tendons, ligaments and cartilage—and include:

  • Sprains and strains—A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament, and a strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon. Rest, ice, compression and elevation usually help minimize the damage.
  • Dislocations—These are joint injuries that force the ends of two connected bones to separate so that one or both are out of position.
  • Fractures—Broken bones in the wrist, ankle, arm and leg are common.

Head injuries are also common, which is why many leading medical organizations recommend wearing protective helmets when you’re on the slopes or in the ice rink.

If you or someone you are with is injured, seek medical attention to determine if treatment and follow-up care is needed.

Preventing Injury and Staying Warm

To reduce your risk of injury, remember to participate within your abilities and don’t overexert yourself. These can be high-speed sports, so slow down and don’t try too hard to impress others. Here are some tips to help prevent winter sports injuries:

  • Never go skiing, sledding, ice skating or snowboarding alone.
  • Exercise in the months leading up to winter activities to keep in shape and condition muscles.
  • Take the time to stretch and warm up your muscles before heading out; cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more prone to injury.
  • Know and abide by the rules of the sport.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding.
  • Use good quality equipment that fits and adjusts well.
  • Take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially in sports like skiing and snowboarding. Beginners should avoid jumping maneuvers.
Gearing Up for Winter Sport Safety

Careful on the ice

Snow and ice sports offer a great workout and health benefits in addition to the fun. But you need to be careful. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2003 reported approximately:

  • 46,700 injuries from ice hockey
  • 53,000 injuries from ice skating
  • 91,000 injuries from sledding, snow tubing and tobogganing
  • 41,500 injuries from snowmobiling
  • 165,000 injuries from snowboarding
  • 144,000 injuries from skiing

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