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Preventing Ski and Snowboarding Injuries

Ski and snowboard season is quickly approaching the slopes of Snowbowl. Those unfamiliar with alpine slope activities may be hesitant to try because of the perception that these sports are dangerous. In fact, general ski injuries have been reduced by 50 percent over the past fifteen years. The most commonly injured joint is the knee, which accounts for 45 percent of all injuries. Beginners and people who tackle high-risk terrain (i.e. out of bounds areas, obstacles, jumps) are more likely to experience an injury. By following the tips outlined in this article, you will be better equipped to enjoy the ski and snowboarding season free of injury.


Common Ski and Snowboard injuries

Injury to Knee Cartilage or Ligaments

Structures inside the knee such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial and lateral collateral ligaments (MCL and LCL), and menisci are especially prone to the twisting forces that occur during falls or by “catching an edge.” Internal knee injuries often require surgery.

Thumb Sprains

Thumbs account for the majority of upper extremity injuries in skiing. A common injury to the thumb tendons is even called “skier’s thumb.” These injuries usually occur from direct trauma from hitting another skier, a tree, or a fall with an outstretched hand. Thumb sprains can vary from very mild to complete tears of the ligaments that may require surgical fixation.

Shoulder AC Joint injuries

Falling onto the “point” of the shoulder often ends with a sprain of the AC joint or a collarbone fracture. These painful injuries can take weeks to heal and limit shoulder movement.

Head Injuries

Head impact injuries, although usually mild, account for the most critical or fatal ski injuries. The skier may impact a fixed object like a tree, another skier, or the ground. High profile deaths from head trauma have raised awareness to the importance of wearing a helmet for prevention of catastrophic head injuries.

Prevention of Ski and Snowboard Injuries

Preparation and common sense go a long way toward prevention of injuries and a fun experience on the slopes. Some helpful advice:

– Preseason workouts emphasizing cardiovascular endurance and core stability can help prolong fatigue that can increase the risk of an injury. Many gyms in ski towns will have a preseason workout designed to add stamina for those long days on the mountain.

– Proper equipment that is in good working order and adjusted correctly will reduce the chances of injury. Quick release bindings have demonstrated reduced injury incidence, but it is important that they are fitted correctly. If you are renting skis, make sure that you accurately report your weight and skiing ability. This will ensure that your skis and bindings settings are appropriate for your build and skill level. The correct torque on your bindings will ensure a proper release in case of a fall.

– Choose the proper trails. Trails are marked by difficulty level for your safety. If you are a beginner, stick to beginner slopes. Ski or snowboard within your ability!

– Wear a helmet to prevent head injuries especially if you are an adventurous skier or boarder that likes to do tricks, jumps, or ski out of bounds.

– Stay hydrated, well fed, and take breaks when you are tired. Skiing on an “empty tank” contributes to fatigue and carelessness that can increase your risk of an injury.

– Be familiar with the F.I.S. code of conduct. Every skier should know the rules that govern proper mountain etiquette and safety. These rules are available at every mountain.

Skiing and snowboarding can be an exhilarating form of exercise. The speed and obstacles involved not only add thrill but increased risk of injury compared to more tame sports. If you prepare and take a few precautions you will reduce the risk of being stranded in the lodge while others are having fun. FBN

Flagstaff Bone and Joint, 77 W. Forest Ave., Ste. 301 Flagstaff, AZ 86001 928-773-2280


Written by Kevin O’Donnell.  Dr. O’Donnell is a board certified sports medicine physician who specializes in non-surgical orthopaedic treatment options. He specializes in concussion management care and ultrasound guided procedures including joint and soft tissue injections, PRP and Prolotherapy.


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