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Snow Sports Injury Prevention and Avoidance

As the Olympics has gone and the Paralympics draw near, many people will be tempted to try skiing and snowboarding, but carry considerable risk for injury. To learn how to decrease your chances of getting injured this winter season, read on.
2022-02-25 12:00:00

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Effective Injury Prevention Begins With Understanding The Most Common Injuries

Whether you're a black-diamond downhill skier or a beginner snowboarder on the bunny hill, injuries happen. We do know that snowboarders are more likely to sustain an injury than skiers. The injury rates for snowboarding have continued to increase, while skiing injury rates have stabilized. No area is exempt from injury, including the head, spine, pelvis, and upper and lower extremities. When studies have compared specific injury types between the two winter sports, snowboarders suffer more shoulder, neck, wrist, and abdominal injuries than alpine skiers. Also, snowboarders are at a higher risk than skiers for sustaining head trauma, specifically concussions.

There is good evidence that upper extremity (UE) injuries are more common in snowboarders while skiers have lower extremity (LE) injuries. For example:

1. UE fractures are three times more common in snowboarders than in skiers.

2. Concussions are also more common in snowboarders.

3. The most common LE injuries across all skill levels involve the knee in skiers and ankle in snowboarders.

4. For every 1,000 skiers on the slopes, one person will hurt her knee. Half of those injuries will be to the medial collateral ligament (MCL), while a third is to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

5. In contrast to beginners, skilled snowboarders injure their LE more than the upper one; the most common LE injury type tends to be lacerations/contusions resulting from a collision with other snow sports participants.

6. The most common fracture site is the ankle.

The Holy Grail Is To Predict And Prevent Injuries

It would be great if you were able to injury-proof yourself by identifying risk factors and key weaknesses through a few simple tests and fixing them with targeted exercises, adequate training, or by optimizing the environment. So far, this goal remains elusive. However, a majority of injuries can be prevented by following a few simple guidelines:

A. Use proper gear.

B. Develop your safety skills.

C. Understand and take care of your body.

Use Proper Gear

1. Wear a helmet- It's the best piece of equipment from a protection perspective. Studies from Canada and the United States show a 29% and a 15% reduction in head injury risk respectively.

2. Beginner snowboarders should wear wrist guards- There is now convincing evidence from studies in America, Norway, France, and New Zealand examining comparisons between groups of boarders with and without guards that show wearing the right kind of wrist guard significantly reduces the risk of wrist injuries.

3. Select quality equipment-
a) Use skis with brakes or a snowboard with a leash to prevent runaway equipment.
b) Improperly fitted or misadjusted gear can cause injury, so it's best to ask for expert advice when purchasing and fitting boots, bindings, boards and skis. Make sure you have equipment that fits you, is well-tuned, and the bindings are set appropriately for your weight and your ability level. Be truthful with the rental shop about your self-assessed skill level when being fitted for skis and bindings.
c) Wear bright colors, dress appropriately for the weather conditions and in layers, and make sure outerwear is made of fabric that is not only water repellent but slide-resistant.

Develop Your Safety Skills

1. Stay in Control. Excess speed, loss of control and collisions with stationary objects, like a tree or lift tower, are the most common factors associated with fatalities.

2. Always know the weather conditions before heading to the slopes; also, be aware that time of day can affect visibility and make obstacles difficult to see.

3. Give skiers in front of you the right of way - they most likely can't see you.

4. If you must stop, stop on the side of a run.

5. Look both ways and uphill before crossing a trail, merging or starting down a hill.

6. Never ski on closed runs or out of boundaries; a rogue skier can cause an avalanche.

Understand and Take Care of Your Body

The stronger and fitter you are, the more fun you will have on the slopes. In terms of working out, downhill skiing is equivalent to cycling or rowing in its level of intensity. Most of the body's muscles will be activated at one time or another.

If your muscles are not in good condition when you hit the slopes, they will quickly fatigue and also become sore a day or two later. When muscles are sore and fatigued, you have less control of your skis and a higher chance of injury. This is why preseason conditioning is so important.

If you are not regularly physically active, an excellent beginner, time-saving, research-proven, an exercise program that develops aerobic capacity, strength, and core stability is the 7-minute Workout. This workout involves the completion of 12 key aerobic and strengthening exercises of all the major muscle groups in rapid succession with 10 seconds of rest between exercises (see below).

As effective as the 7-Minute workout is, this program, by itself, is not enough to condition your body so you can easily ski run after run without getting fatigued and injured. Because no single exercise program will meet everyone's needs.

You should try to customize a program towards any deficits you have in strength, flexibility or balance. Then, start your training schedule about six weeks before the ski season starts. It takes that long for your muscles to get in shape and for you to feel the benefits in terms of better conditioning and performance. There are many training programs available on the internet for you to explore.

And one last important injury prevention tip: Don't forget to do a proper dynamic warm up for five to ten minutes before heading downhill for the first time to get the blood flowing to all your muscles. Examples include arm circles, upper body rotations, squats and running in place.

Now let's hit the slopes!

Dr. Frank Lorch

Dr. Frank Lorch has over 20 years of experience using advanced techniques other than surgery to treat patients with many kinds of injuries due to sports, high-stress environments and accidents. He also treats pain from bone, muscle, and nerve conditions such as fractures, arthritis, tendinopathy, back pain, radiculopathy, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Dr. Frank' s expertise lies in the accurate diagnosis of many kinds of painful conditions affecting all types of athletes from professionals to those who simply wish to remain as active as possible. He is skilled in sports and musculoskeletal diagnostic ultrasound, fluoroscopically-guided injections, and electromyography and nerve conduction studies. He also values a team approach to healing and works closely with phyiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths and TCM doctors. Using regenerative medicine techniques such as platelet-rich plasma, and utilizing the many benefits of exercise to improve his patients' health are special interests of his.

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