Skiing and snowboarding injuries
Around 1.8 million Britons will hit the ski slopes this season. Experts suggest that there are 3 skiing injuries in every 1,000 skier days and 4-16 snowboarding injuries in every 1,000 snowboarder days. This equates to skiing every day for three years continuously and only getting one injury per year. Both skiing and snowboarding thus remain very safe sports but occasionally injuries do occur on the slopes.
What are some of the most common skiing/snowboarding injuries?
A wide range of injuries occur in snow sports. Thankfully, most injuries are minor bumps, grazes and sprains.
Some of the most common types of knee injuries, in order of frequency, are:
- Knee ligament injuries - Anterior cruciate (ACL) or medial collateral (MCL) ligament injuries
- Cartilage or meniscus injuries to the knee
- Fractures around the knee
- Injuries to the calf muscle
However, ACL injuries are probably the most common of the soft tissue injuries seen by knee specialists regardless of the season or cause.
Occasionally various combinations of injury can occur, with ACL injuries combining with MCL and meniscal injury.
Other parts of the body affected for both skiers and snowboarders include:
- Head injuries
- Spinal injuries
- Shoulder dislocations or fractures
- Shoulder separations (rotator cuff tears)
- Leg fractures
- Wrist fractures
- Skier's thumb injury
- Other hand injuries
Do skiers or snowboarders have more injuries?
It’s not so much that one type of snow sport is any more dangerous than the other, but that we see different types of injuries in skiers and boarders.
It is the twisting action and force that causes most knee injuries but because a snowboarder’s legs remain in the bindings during a fall they tend to avoid knee injuries. As such over 60% of snowboarding injuries are to the wrist, hand or thumb. Snow boarders get a lot of wrist fractures and they tend to get shoulder injuries like acromioclavicular (AC) joint dislocations.
Knee injuries make up over 40%, and by far the largest proportion, of injuries sustained by skiers. A ski turn can place a force of more than two and a half times your body weight on your knees, and landing after a jump can double this force. These forces can cause knee injuries, particularly when the bindings on the skis are too tight and fail to release when it twists on landing.
The other thing that we tend to see a lot in skiers is an injury called skiers thumb where the thumb ligaments are torn or damaged by keeping hold of the pole in a fall.
What causes skiing and snowboarding injuries?
Although 75% of snow sport injuries occur as the direct result of a fall or jump, most knee injuries occur when slowing down or turning, not necessarily at high speed.
A lot of the time injuries happen when a person loses control, often travelling too fast for the conditions and/or on a slope inappropriate to their ability level. Another factor is using the wrong or faulty equipment. Fatigue also plays a big part after a long day on the slopes, with injuries often occurring on the last run of the day.
You can help ski injury prevention by taking sensible precautions and avoiding the situations where injuries are likely to occur.
How are skiing/snowboarding injuries treated?
If you suffer a skiing or snowboarding injury it’s likely you will first be treated by a resort doctor. Fortunately, most snow sport injuries are minor and can be treated with rest, bracing, and anti-inflammatory medication.
Some fractures may require immediate surgical intervention and are often just stabilised in-resort to then be treated once you return home.
Often knee ligament injuries do not require emergency surgery and just need an accurate diagnosis and a mixture of bracing, targeted physiotherapy, and surgery only if there is ongoing instability or soft tissue injury that isn’t going to heal by itself.
Remember to get copies of any information obtained from medical treatment carried out in-resort, such as x-rays, scans or other tests, and don’t forget to let your insurance company know what has happened as soon as possible.