Skiing. Snowboarding. Ice skating. Sledding. Snowmobiling. Hockey. Winter is nearly here and people will soon be participating in an abundance of snowy, icy activities, which in turn means increased emergency room visits due to injury. With some pre-planning, however, winter sports-related injuries can be avoided so that outdoor activities can be fun and memorable.

Winter sports injuries account for a high number of emergency room visits

In 2010, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission calculated the number of emergency room visits due to accidents while participating in winter sports. In total that year, there were 440,000 such visits.

The number and causes of these emergency room visits:

  • 148,000 injuries due to snowboarding
  • 144,000 injuries due to snow skiing
  • 58,500 injuries due to ice skating accidents
  • 91,000 injuries from sledding and tubing

Here are 5 tips for staying safe and preventing injury this winter

  1. Dress appropriately for cold and wind

Hypothermia is a common factor in many emergency room visits. The #1 way to prevent hypothermia is to stay warm and dry, and the best way to do this is to wear layers, particularly light synthetic materials under a water-resistant, wind-resistant jacket. Avoid cotton. When you sweat and your cotton shirt, undershirt or sweater gets wet, it can do little to keep you warm. Other materials such as wool- and nylon-based synthetics do a great job of keeping you warm even when wet.

Important: If you or anyone you are with shows signs or symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, seek shelter and medical attention immediately.

Hypothermia or frostbite symptoms include:

  • confusion
  • memory loss or slurred speech
  • drop in body temperature below 95 degrees Farenheit
  • exhaustion or drowsiness
  • loss of consciousness
  • numb hands or feet
  • shallow breathing
  • shivering
  1. Wear protective gear, especially helmets. When you are skiing, snowboarding or even snow tubing, it is highly recommended to wear a helmet. Helmets have been proven to prevent traumatic brain injuries and save lives. To keep your face warm and protected, wear ski goggles. And when snowboarding, wear wrist protection.
  2. Never go out alone. When skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or sledding, it is crucial that you stay with a group or at least one other individual. Many mountain areas are very isolated and may not have cell service. If you’re alone and sustain an injury, you run the risk of developing hypothermia, which in extreme cases can be fatal. If you have a buddy with you, it is not only more fun but safer.
  3. Warm up before hitting the slopes. Skiing and snowboarding are very physical sports. Warming up your muscles beforehand is an important way to prevent injury to your muscles and joints. This is even more important when the temperatures are very low. Before your first run, at the top of the lift, jog in place for a few minutes and then stretch your hamstrings and quadriceps. This will not only help prevent injury but will also post-activity muscle soreness.
  4. Follow the rules. It is very important to follow the rules of the mountain. If a sign indicates a trail is closed, stay off that trail. Trails are closed because they are not safe for skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling or hiking. It’s also important to be aware of other skiers and snowboarders around you in order to avoid collisions, which can cause traumatic injury.

Winter sports are a great way to stay fit and enjoy time with friends and family

Stay safe, have fun and get out there and enjoy winter!

By Michael A. Gott, MD, an Orthopedic surgeon with Westchester Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine who is fellowship trained in sports medicine. Dr. Gott has also been an active member of the National Ski Patrol, as well as a Member of the Windham Mountain Ski Patrol for 18 years.