Mastering Vail’s mountains |

Mastering Vail’s mountains

Melanie Wong
VAIL CO, Colorado
HL concussion biker 2 KA 3-19-11

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about common injuries mountain athletes suffer. Visit to read the first story in the series, which focused on skiing and snowboarding injuries.

EAGLE COUNTY – As warmer weather rolls around and the ski season turns into summer, emergency physician Chip Woodland can tell by the injuries that come through the door at Vail Valley Medical Center.

The torn ACL’s and broken wrists from skiing and snowboarding become cuts, concussions and overuse injuries from biking and running, health care professionals said.

So as winter thaws, take some advice from some mountain summer athletes who have “been there, done that.”

In the summer, Woodland said that many of the sports injuries he sees come from mountain bike crashes, the most common being clavicle breaks (from putting an arm out to break a fall), wrist injuries and head injuries.

Edwards mountain biker Karen Jarchow can tell you about the latter – what she remembers of it, anyway. She was competing in the 2009 town series at Berry Creek in Edwards when she crashed on a descent.

“I completely missed a turn,” she said. “I hit a sage bush, went over the handlebars, and landed on my head with my head bent to the side. I came to, and there was a medic over me. I tried to convince him I was fine and tried to get back on my bike. I got up, and went straight back down.”

The damage was a serious concussion and a sprained back. She was unable to ride for the next couple weeks, and said she learned to take head injuries seriously from the experience.

Expert advice: “A lot of people play them off and think they’re just fine,” Jarchow said. “But they can cause serious damage. I also learned how to crash – don’t fight it. Just let it go. Tensing up is the biggest mistake. Tuck and roll, and hopefully don’t hit your head.”

Running injuries tend to be chronic and caused by overuse of a muscle. They include shin splints, knee pain, plantar fasciitis (pain in the arch tendon of the foot) and Achilles tendonitis (inflammation of the Achilles tendon).

Josiah Middaugh, an XTERRA national champion and endurance coach, said he’s had most of the common running injuries. His worst, however, was a bad case of iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, commonly known as runner’s knee.

In most cases, it is a pain or tightness on the outside of the knee and can be treated in a few weeks time with rest, massage and icing. In Middaugh’s case, it was more of a “sharp, stabbing pain” after completing a six-day adventure race in 2008. A week later, he could barely run a mile. He completed the rest of the season and the next with the injury, but it didn’t get better.

“I tried not running for four months,” he said. “I had all the cortisone injections I was allowed. All of 2009, the only times I ran was in triathlons and races – it was a tough season.”

Finally, doctors agreed his problem wasn’t going to heal itself, and he had surgery to release pressure on the band. He’s now fully recovered.

Expert advice: For athletes suffering from chronic injuries, Middaugh advises backing off from the activity to allow for recovery. For more persistent injuries, he said, don’t hesitate to seek advice from the many athletes, trainers and health care professionals in the area.

Matt Mymern, a physical therapist at Howard Head, works with quite a few runners.

“Running is a high-impact sport on the knees,” he said. “Some people may want to try going to a softer surface. Maybe you don’t always need to run down the bike path, but try a trail. For out-patients with knee problems, we offer other options, such as biking or swimming.”

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