Every year millions of people around the globe choose to take a winter holiday, and a significant proportion of this group will be hitting the slopes to indulge in a spot of skiing or snowboarding.
Despite the fact that many people will quite happily enjoy their holiday without incident, it must be said that winter sports do involve a higher risk of injury than your typical sun, sea and sand vacation. In order to help you stay aware on the slopes, Jonathan Bell, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Wimbledon Clinics, shares his knowledge in this brief guide to typical ski accidents and injuries…
The main causes of head injuries on the slopes are falls or collisions with low-hanging tree branches, other skiers or hard ground. Symptoms of head injuries can vary depending on the severity of the blow and can range from minor bumps to loss of consciousness. Injuries to the head can sometimes appear more serious than they really are as lacerations to the scalp have a tendency to bleed profusely and may need stitches to heal.
In general, any head injury ought to be checked out by a healthcare professional, particularly if the person appears dazed or confused. Loss of consciousness after a head injury on the slopes calls for the emergency services.
Prevent head injuries by skiing according to the conditions and your ability, ensuring you pay attention to what is happening around you and wearing a helmet, which may reduce the severity of a blow but can’t necessarily prevent one occurring.
Knee ligament injuries are one of the most common complaints from winter sports enthusiasts. These can range from minor injuries to the medial collateral ligament, which could require physiotherapy to speed up the recovery, to more serious issues with the anterior cruciate ligament which might need surgery.
Torn ligaments in the knee are more common than dislocations, though the latter can occur in any sport which might result in twisting of the joint, particularly if one is vulnerable in this area. Knee dislocations require specialist attention as this sort of injury could potentially cause nerve damage if not attended to correctly.
Rotator cuff injuries are prevalent in skiing, particularly sprains that can occur as a result of a fall or a collision whilst the skier has their hands caught in the straps of their poles. This type of injury can be helped with physiotherapy, although a more serious injury such as a rotator cuff tear might well require surgery.
Other common injuries to this area of the body include a broken clavicle (also known as collarbone) and a dislocated shoulder. A fractured clavicle, though painful and requiring medical attention, is not usually serious and may simply need a sling. However, a dislocated shoulder will require emergency medical attention and could result in either a sling or surgery.
Some injuries to the shoulder could be prevented by skiing without hands in the straps, particularly when navigating through trees where the likelihood of getting a pole caught is higher.
Spine problems that can result from skiing vary to a great degree, ranging from a minor bump to a serious fracture requiring spine surgery. Common causes of spinal accidents tend to be a fall from a height such as when tackling ski jumps, and symptoms that would cause great concern include any loss of feeling or pain radiating into the legs.
Minor spinal issues could be treated with therapy whilst serious problems such as a fractured spine would require specialist intervention.
Practice the utmost caution on jumps and consider wearing a back protector which may provide some level of added protection.
Common thumb injuries sustained when skiing include fractures and damage to the thumb ligament – the latter is often referred to as ‘skier’s thumb’. Skier’s thumb is caused by a fall onto the outstretched digit and is more likely to occur if the thumb is gripping something such as a ski pole at the time. Symptoms include a loss of function or weakness in the thumb – swelling or bruising may affect the thumb too. X-rays and examinations can help determine treatment which could include using a splint, a cast or surgery.
Reduce your risk of developing skier’s thumb by choosing ski poles which have grooves for your fingers yet do not restrain your hands with wrist straps. This way you can release your poles if you fall, in order to reduce injuries of this nature.
In general, skiers should ensure they prepare sufficiently for winter sports by building strength in associated muscles groups and improving their level of fitness. This will help to avoid putting undue strain on certain parts of the body. Additionally, skiing according to the right skill level, using the right equipment and ensuring good technique is employed through a qualified instructor can lower the risk of an accident or injury significantly.