The Medical Minute: Enjoying winter sports safely

December 09, 2008

By William Hennrikus, Kristine Fortuna, and Douglas Armstrong

We are entering that wonderful time of year when we can experience some of the many benefits of living in a climate with four seasons. Those who enjoy skiing and snowboarding are anxiously looking at hilltops in the expectation of seeing some beautiful white powder.

Studies continue to show that rates of injury relative to the number of hours participated in skiing and snowboarding remain low, making those sports some of the safest and healthiest that we can enjoy, if we remain mindful of injury prevention.

There is some controversy as to whether the rate of injury in snowboarding is higher than in skiing. Snowboarding is associated with more severe injuries, especially wrist and elbow fractures. Younger males -- especially teenage boys -- and beginners seem to be at greater risk. Skiers seeking medical treatment are more likely to have knee injuries or others involving the lower limbs. There has been a rising incidence of spleen injuries, especially in snowboarders. Both sports have increasingly involved acrobatics; consequently there have been an alarming number of reports of devastating head and spinal cord injuries in young participants, again more frequently involving males. Several studies have emphasized that risk-taking behavior is a major cause of injury in either sport.

What can we do to prevent injury?

  • Since peer-reviewed studies have shown that beginners are at higher risk, consider taking lessons and insisting on children taking them.
  • Stay on hills that are consistent with your skill level and maintain a slower speed.
  • Wrist guards have been shown to reduce the rate and severity of wrist fractures in snowboarders.
  • Helmets are a proven measure which should be worn by every skier or snowboarder for protection against head injuries.
  • For skiers and snowboarders of every age, pre-participation stretching and warm-up are good ideas.

For more information on wrist and elbow fractures, please visit Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Health Information Library online.

William Hennrikus, M.D., Kristine Fortuna, M.D. and Douglas Armstrong, M.D. are orthopaedic surgeons from Penn State Hershey Bone and Joint Institute, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

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Last Updated July 22, 2015