Winter Sport Safety Precautions Courtesy of Nyack Hospital

With the 2018 Winter Olympics happening over the next few weeks, read up on some winter sport safety precautions by our tenant Nyack Hospital!

In order to stay safe during the winter season, there are steps one should take to reduce risk of injury during the frigid winter. From the advanced sport enthusiasts hitting the local mountains, to the family taking a winter walk in the park, preparing yourself and your family in advance can help protect and reduce risk of injury. Barry S. Kraushaar, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Nyack Hospital notes that you can “protect yourself from everything like shoulder fractures to frostbite to brain injuries” when the correct precautions are taken. Awareness is key.

Dr. Kraushaar, who has been skiing since age 5, notes: “The best way to protect yourself against winter sports injury is to be in good athletic condition. The ability to exercise or perform outdoor sports this time of year can be more demanding than during other times of the year due to the stresses that cold conditions create on your body.” Dr. Kraushaar urges winter sports enthusiasts to keep in shape all year, so they’re physically ready for the slopes: “Cross training and endurance training are very important…Running, cycling, and using the elliptical keep your legs in shape. Classes that promote core strengthening, like Pilates, are also good for winter sports.” Exercise in cold conditions adds to the amount of work athletes face, and any weakness brought about is exposed immediately by the need to generate body heat and keep the core warm. Winter sports require unique abilities in all types of conditions, making it important to fully understand techniques before performing them.

Skiing or snowboarding lessons can help prevent injuries, says Dr. Kraushaar: “Taking classes will give you lifelong skills that will stay with you.” He warns against trying to keep up with friends who are more advanced, becasue “if you go with a friend to a slope that you’re not prepared for, you’re putting yourself at risk of injury.” It is integral to know your limits and only push yourself in a safe and healthy manner. There are common winter injuries that happen season to season: knee and ankle injuries, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears or fractures. To help protect yourself from these injuries, have board and ski bindings inspected, and be sure that your footwear is sized properly. Taking these small preparatory steps can help save you from injury.

Another common injury is skier’s thumb, which occurs when skiers fall awkwardly on their hands while holding a ski pole. This results in an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear which is a ligament on the inside of the thumb. For preventative measures, be sure the ski strap stays below the wrist, as skiers can easily dislocate or fracture their shoulder when they fall on an outstretched arm. According to the Nyack hospital piece, “Many of these injuries happen at the end of the day when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run. It’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling and stop when you are fatigued, Dr. Kraushaar says. Skiers and snowboarders should wear helmets. “I tell my patients we can fix almost everything except the skull and neck…People don’t realize it only takes minutes to get frostbite on the nose or fingertips in very cold, windy weather,” he says, which is why it is integral to wear layers and wind-resistant clothing.”

In addition to injuries, winter sports also bring a risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and dehydration. If your core body temperature drops just a few degrees, hypothermia will set in. With even mild hypothermia, your brain and body do not work as well.
In order to help protect against hypothermia, wearing layers can also be of great aid: “Choose an inner layer that wicks sweat away from the skin (such as lightweight wool, polyester, or polypropylene). Good middle layers are polyester fleece, wool, microfiber insulation or down—these insulate and keep the heat in. A good outer layer repels wind, snow, and rain. Finish off your winter sports wardrobe with a warm hat, face mask, scarf or neck warmer, mittens or gloves, wool or polypro socks, and warm, waterproof shoes or boots.”
Keeping hydrated is also important when outside in the snow and frigid temps: “You lose moisture when you exert yourself, even when it’s cold,” he says. “But unlike hot weather, when you can see and feel your sweat, you may not realize you’re sweating in the cold…Drinking water—not alcohol or caffeine, which makes the body lose even more water—is key to avoiding dehydration,” Dr. Kraushaar notes.

If you’re used to skiing on the East Coast and take a vacation in Colorado, be aware of the change in altitude, Dr. Kraushaar warns. “The first night and day, take it easy and get used to the thinner air…” No matter where you are before you decide whether to spend the day skiing or snowboarding, pay attention to the conditions outside, he advises. “All of these sports involve controlling your motion on snowy or frozen surfaces. If it’s icy outside, it’s difficult to control your movements. The worse the conditions, the more you are tempting fate. By avoiding the ice, you may be avoiding injury.”