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Hitting the Slopes? Know Before You Go

As wild as it may sound, skiers and snowboarders do have at least a couple of things in common. The first is a love for winter and fresh powder. Another, while a bit of a bummer is no less true, it’s an increased risk for injury. In fact, there were more than 129,000 snowboarding and skiing injuries reported in 2018 alone, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

With that in mind, we want to help our winter weather lovers get the most out of the season, so we checked in with George Matic, Jr., M.D., MPH who, along with other Beacon physicians, has seen an increase in patients suffering from skiing and snowboarding-related injuries. We asked talked to him to find out which ones are most prevalent and how to avoid them if possible.

“Preparation for the slopes is key to avoiding injuries,” said Dr. Matic. “Upper extremity injuries are more common in snowboarding, and lower extremity injuries are more common in skiing. However, they can occur with both.”

Dr. Matic added, “Some of the most common upper extremities injuries that we see are hand or wrist fractures. However, shoulder injuries including dislocations, AC (shoulder) separation, fractures, and clavicle fractures happen a lot. Skiers can also encounter thumb injuries including injury to the UCL (skier’s thumb).”

While we can’t prevent all injuries on the slopes, some measures can help mitigate them. Beginner skiers have more risk of injury, and although that shouldn’t discourage newbies, the younger you are the easier it is to learn. However, if you start skiing later in life, lessons can be helpful. Physical fitness, including strengthening and conditioning, is also one of the most ideal ways to avoid injuries.

Help Prevent Injuries on the Slopes

Acclimation is Key
For those who are traveling to destinations with high altitudes, acclimatization is important to avoid altitude-related illness. Without proper preparation, outdoor and elevation conditions can also cause hypothermia, frost bite and sun burn.

Warm Up
This tip is about more than hot chocolate and hot toddies in front of the fireplace. A little stretching and aerobic activity go a long way. Because cold muscles are prone to injuries, spending just 15 minutes will get your muscles good, warm and ready for the day. Utilizing slower ski runs initially can also help get the body ready for more challenging slopes.

Got Gear?
Always use proper equipment and gear. It should go without saying, but it’s easy to skip a step when you’re in a hurry to get on the slopes with your friends and family. Proper protective gear can mean the difference between a forgettable fall and a serious break or dislocation. Helmets are crucial for preventing head injuries. Wrist guards have been shown to decrease wrist injuries for snowboarders.

Don’t Be a Show Off
Stay in control on the slopes by sticking to ones that align with your skill level. That black diamond may have to wait for another day. While Kermit was right, it’s not easy being green, there’s no shame in it either.

Avoid Yard Sales
It’s happened to every skier and snowboarder (whether they admit or not). Things start to get out of control fast, and you know you’re headed for a fall. If you can manage it, try to tuck and roll. That position can actually help to avoid or minimize injuries in some instances.

Be Weather Aware
When you’re in the mountains, weather can change on a dime, especially at high elevations. Keep your eyes to the skies to know when a sunny day is starting to go south. Changes in the snow or ice can also alter the terrain and potentially become dangerous.

Know When to Quit
Look. We all know winter is short, and good powder can be hard to come by, but you have to know when to call it a day. When your quads are burning and everything else is feeling like jelly, you’ve pushed yourself too far, which makes you more vulnerable to falls. Listen to your body, and know when to quit.

Injured? We’ve Got Your Back (or shoulder or leg or arm or knee)

So the mountain got the best of you and you find yourself injured. It’s important to see an orthopedic physician for proper diagnosis and treatment as quickly as possible. If a ski destination has medical providers on site, they can help triage your injuries. When an injury is emergent, they’ll likely transport you to the nearest medical facility. However, a lot of injuries aren’t emergencies, and that’s what we tend to see at Beacon Orthopaedics. Many of our injured skiers and snowboarders take advantage of our Urgent Care services.

Specialists at Beacon, like snow-tested Dr. Matic, are here to help you. Same-day appointments and Urgent Care are available.