Prevent Injuries While Enjoying Winter Activities

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

One of the joys of living in Wisconsin is the diversity of winter sports and activities available to us. Along with the fun of skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and ice-skating, however is the risk for injuries. Here are some tips to help you enjoy the outdoors in the winter while avoiding injuries.

Downhill skiing is a popular winter activity; unfortunately it comes with a substantial risk of injury. Many skiing injuries, which can range from muscles contusions and muscle strains to torn ligaments and broken bones, are related to fatigue and a lack of conditioning by the skier. It is not uncommon for these injuries to occur on the last run at the end of a day.

Skiers can avoid some of these problems by working on flexibility and leg-strengthening exercises as well as some basic cardiovascular conditioning. Preseason conditioning before hitting the slopes will pay off in better performance and fewer injuries. Make sure you use equipment that is appropriate for your size and ability. Bindings need to be adjusted to release properly in the event of a fall. Wearing a helmet has gained acceptance and is recommended for children and beginner skiers. Snowboarders often add wrist guards to their protective equipment.

Who doesn’t remember sledding down the neighborhood hill on a saucer? While sledding is a classic wintertime activity, it can result in serious injuries. To avoid this, always be aware of where you’re going, don’t sled in the dark, and always make sure young children are supervised when sledding. Be careful about where you choose to sled; some hills may have trees and other obstacles that present dangerous hazards.

For people who participate in long-distance running, winter weather poses unique risks. Spending time outdoors increases your risk of exposure and frostbite. Dress for the elements, and wear layered clothing that can be added or removed depending on the temperature. Consider wearing a mask to protect your airway and lungs in very cold temperatures. Surface ice also poses a threat to runners. A fall on an icy surface often results in broken bones or severe sprains. Sidewalks can be dangerous on sunny days when the sun melts snow and ice, then freezes again into “black ice.” Use caution while running, and avoid running at night or when visibility is poor.

Finally, there are safety concerns for those who aren’t as active in the winter. Falling on ice causes so many injuries that emergency department staff often use the abbreviation SOI (slip on ice) on patient records. Walk carefully outdoors in the winter, try to keep your arms free for balance, and don’t rush. Also take care when shoveling snow, particularly wet, heavy snow. Improper body mechanics (strained or unsafe body movements) can lead to herniated disks and other painful back conditions. Know your limitations. And never put your hand in a snow blower—even if the power is off!

Just a few minutes of preparation can help you stay safe while you enjoy the winter and all that Wisconsin has to offer!

Dr. Donald Middleton is an orthopaedic surgeon on staff at Columbia St. Mary’s and the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin. For an appointment, call 414-961-0304.

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