Stay in control to prevent injury on the slopes
VAIL CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the second column in a two-part series. Visit http://www.vaildaily.com to read the first part.
Last week I talked about at a study in The American Journal of Sports Medicine (January 20, 2012) that focused on snowboard injuries versus skier injuries. Much of the data published in the study is synonymous with what we see in our offices: Snowboarders have a slightly higher rate of injury than skiers. The most common type of injury for snowboarders is wrist injuries; while for skiers, it’s an ACL sprain. Last week we touched on the types of injuries and this week I’ll discuss the causes of the majority of the injuries.
Definitely, we see more injuries at the end of the day when protective muscles are tired and less quick to respond. Faulty equipment is still a periodic problem but less and less common as the predictability and quality of the gear improves. Dehydration is common in the mountains and causes your energy to decrease, which could potentially result in injury. The phenomenon of the “weekend warrior,” who gets more easily fatigued versus the well-conditioned athlete, is a common factor in injuries at the end of the day. Furthermore, we see injuries in patients who ski or snowboard beyond their ability.
But above all else, most of our surgeries are the result of one party or another being “out of control.” Anecdotally, after speaking to thousands of recently injured patients, the most common descriptions of an accident is one of the following:
1. I got out of control and crashed.
2. Someone else got out of control and ran into the back of me or over me.
3. I hit a patch of ice or unexpected terrain.
4. I overshot or “knuckled” (undershot) the jump.
5. My arm/leg hit the rail in the terrain park.
The old adage of “staying in control” cannot be overstated. By design, skiing and snowboarding is fairly ballistic – think about what your body is doing through space. If your energy can get dispersed, for example sliding to a stop, then your body usually isn’t forced to “absorb” it. But fixed objects, collisions and sudden forceful decelerations are the common denominators that understandably cause significant injury. You would never consider jumping out of a moving vehicle at 30 miles per hour into a wooded forest. Flying fast through the woods on skis or a snowboard is analogous. Those are some of the most dramatic injures that we see on the slopes. Use common sense and extra caution, of course, in the woods.
How to prevent an injury
So how do you prevent injuries? It’s based on your experience. Beginners, especially snowboarders, have to pad up. The “whiplash” of a beginner snowboard injury is fast and unpredictable, with common head injuries as you fall back. Wearing a helmet and wrist guards will keep you out of the hospital.
Stretching also can help prevent muscle tears, tendon tears and overuse-type injuries associated with using muscles uncommonly stressed. These tendons and muscles are routinely tested while skiing and snowboarding especially among the weekend warriors or the visitors who ski once a year.
Studies have convincingly shown if you apply enough physics to a knee, no external brace will effectively “prevent” a ligament injury. But it definitely provides a sense of feedback to your brain so that it knows where your knee is in space. This alone may provide a sense of protective sensibility as patients regularly report they have more confidence and security while skiing with a brace.
In conclusion, skiing and snowboarding is a recreational sport, and continues to statistically remain a relatively safe sport as evidenced by the huge numbers of people who participate. Staying reasonably fit, having an awareness of others around you, staying in control of your body, and not regularly “trying things” (like leaving the earth without a plan), makes skiing and snowboarding a rewarding lifetime sport that keeps you fit, active and healthy.
Dr. Terrell Joseph is a physician with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics specializing in hand and upper extremity and knee surgery. Visit http://www.vsortho.com for more information.