As thrilling as it is, hurtling down an icy mountain strapped to thin plastic planks is inherently dangerous.
That’s why snow sports injuries have their own section in the insurance forms.
In the liberating beauty of the mountainside, it’s easy to forget just how dangerous snow sports can be, even for the experienced skier…
Nearly one out of six British holiday makers suffer an injury while taking part in snow sports.
This forces nearly half of them to cut their holidays short or spend time in hospital recovering.
Not an ideal way to spend the half-term break.
But you can mitigate your risk by preparing properly, having the right equipment, and dealing with the issue correctly when it occurs.
So, here’s what you need to know about the most common snow sports injuries:
Common Skiing Injuries
Skiers are most prone to injuries to the lower body, particularly the knees and ankles.
In fact, around 40% of skiing injuries involve the knee.
These range from minor injuries which require rest and some gentle physiotherapy, to the severe ruptures which often require surgery.
It is more common skiers to suffer torn ligaments rather than complete dislocations.
Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Tear
The Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) runs along the inside of your knee, and prevents your knee bending inwards.
An MCL tear can occur any time weight or force is put on the outside of the knee, forcing it further inwards than it can go.
This causes immediate pain, swelling and bruising.
Most people find that despite an MCL tear, they can still stand on their injured knee.
However, when putting weight on it they will often find it unstable or painful.
MCL injuries should be treated as any injury, using the PRICE method: Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.
Medial Collateral Ligament injuries are able to heal naturally, given the right rehabilitation.
For a full return to sports, it’s essential to have guided rehabilitation therapy with a physiotherapist.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Rupture
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is in the middle of the knee and prevents your shin bone from sliding in front of the thigh bone.
ACL injuries are very serious, caused when the knee is forced to twist further than it is supposed to.
This ruptures the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, causing the knee to give way with a ‘popping’ sound.
The knee swells severely, limiting movement, and it will take several weeks to return back to its normal size.
If you have ruptured your ACL, you will notice some pain and instability when putting any weight on it.
Depending on the severity of the rupture, it may be possible to treat with physical therapy alone.
Some people can even live normally with a torn ACL.
But severe cases require surgery to rebuild the ligament.
This is often advisable anyway, as an un-repaired ACL can increase the risk of further injury to the knee.
Common Snowboarding Injuries
Snowboarders are at increased risk of upper body injuries because their feet are fixed to the same board.
This means, you cannot regain your balance as easily as on skis.
Your instinct is to stretch out a hand to break your fall, but on a hard surface like packed snow, you risk a fracture.
The best thing you can do to reduce your chance of a wrist fracture (or indeed any other injury while snowboarding) is to learn how to fall properly.
You can also try wearing a pair of specialist wrist guards, which have been shown to help prevent injury.
A wrist fracture is the medical name for a broken wrist.
Your wrist is made up of eight small bones connected to the two bones in your forearm; the radius and the ulna.
Although any of these bones can be fractured, a large majority of wrist fractures to the radius.
They can occur in any number of ways, but are most commonly caused by a heavy fall.
Any wrist fracture requires immediate professional attention.
If the break is severe or the bone has been displaced, then it may require surgery.
For minor fractures where the bone is stable, it is possible to treat with just a padded splint or cast.
More severe fractures often need artificial fixing through surgery.
During the operation, a surgeon may use screws, pins, rods or plates to hold the bone in place, ensuring it heals in the correct position.
Full recovery from a wrist fracture can sometimes take months, but will vary from case to case.
During this period it’s essential to seek support from a rehabilitation expert, who will be able to advise you on the best mode of recovery.
They will be able to tell you when and how to move properly to ensure your wrist heals correctly.
Shoulder fractures occur because of a heavy fall or blow to the shoulder, and due to the complex nature of the shoulder joint, often require surgery.
The shoulder is one of the more complicated joints in your body.
It is made up of your upper arm bone (the humerus), your shoulder-blade (the scapula), and your collarbone (the clavicle).
The type of fracture, interestingly, often depends on age.
While children and younger people often suffer a broken collarbone (clavicle) from a heavy fall on the shoulder, maturer skiers (65+) are more prone to joint injuries and fractures of the humerus.
The three most common shoulder fractures are:
Clavicle Fracture – this is the most common break that occurs in the shoulder. Often known as a broken collarbone, they are fairly simple injuries to recover from.
Scapula Fracture – this is a very rare injury, usually only occurring in falls from height or in motor vehicle accidents. Scapula fractures rarely happen in isolation.
Proximal Humerus Fracture – these are much more likely to occur in those age over 60 and can range from a complete break (quite rare), to a minor crack in the bone.
Any fractured shoulder will require at least x-rays and/or a CT scan to determine the extent of the injury.
For minor breaks where the bone is still stable, a simple sling and support worn for up to 2 months, along with proper rehabilitation training, will be sufficient for full healing.
When surgery is required, screws and plates are used to support the fractured bone.
The extent of your recovery from a shoulder fracture will depend on the quality of your care and rehabilitation.
You’ll be able to start rehabilitation as soon as any pain has gone, but you cannot return to sports until your strength has returned fully.
Dislocated shoulders are very serious injuries, in which the ‘ball’ at the top of your humerus (upper arm bone) has been pulled out of the socket in your shoulder.
These are particularly serious because they usually involve damage to the surrounding muscle, ligament and tendon tissues.
Added to that, they are incredibly painful and will of course cause some swelling and bruising.
Some patients have also reported numbness or a tingling sensation in their arm, hand and fingers.
Although no surgery is needed if you have dislocated your shoulder for the first time, it may be required if your tendons or ligaments are badly damaged.
Once the arm has been ‘relocated’ back into the shoulder socket, it will be placed in a support or immobiliser to help it heal properly.
Once dislocated, your shoulder will be more prone to dislocating in the future.
If it continues to dislocate or partially dislocate, it may require surgery to repair the ligaments.
After your shoulder has healed 2 to 4 weeks, you will need to visit a physical therapist begin rehabilitation.
They will teach you how to exercise properly to strengthen the joint and help you to set realistic goals for your return to sports fully.
Head Injuries and Concussions on the Snow
Head injuries are one of the most common types of injury, caused by everything from collisions to falls.
The risk with head injuries is that what may seem to be a light bump can actually result in a severe concussion.
In the worst cases this can even lead to dangerous brain trauma.
As a matter of practice, any head injury should be checked by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Call the emergency services if the injured person appears confused or dazed, or if they lose consciousness.
Although you can wear a helmet to help reduce your risk of injury, these cannot stop an accident happening in the first place.
Whether you’re skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing or snowshoeing, you can reduce your risk of injury by:
- Making sure you have the correct equipment
- Skiing sensibly, and staying aware of your surroundings
- Staying within the limits of your ability.
If you think you need advice and specialist treatment, then contact us today and we’ll put together a clear strategy for treatment and recovery, so you can be back to your best as soon as possible.
Call us on: 0208 944 0665 or email us at: [email protected]
Sports injuries specialist: Mr Jonathan Bell