With a history of freezing temperatures causing heavy snowfalls, slippery roads and sidewalks North Shore residents are at a greater risk for winter sports-related injuries. What many people don’t realize is that they can also suffer serious injuries from shoveling snow or slipping in the driveway to collect the newspaper.
Nearly 250,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctor’s offices and emergency rooms for injuries related to winter sports in 2015. These injuries included: snow skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and sledding, tobogganing or snow tubing, according to the U.S, Consumer Product Safety Commission.
As a result, some common sports injuries include:
- Skiing: knee injuries (ACL, MCL): Unnatural twisting of the knee due to design of skis and ski boots
- Snowboarding: wrist, elbow, arm injuries (sprained or broken bones): Attempts to catch yourself as you fall
- Sledding & ice skating: (head injuries): Collisions at high speeds
DailyNorthShore.com asked Dr. Diego Villacis, an orthopaedic surgeon with the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute, for tips on how to prevent injuries from all levels of winter-related activities.
DNS: In addition to sports injuries, what can be done to prevent injuries from shoveling snow, and falling on icy driveways, etc.?
Dr. Villacis: There are two things to consider, and both take a little extra time, but are worth it. First, avoid the problem by preventing it the night before. Consider throwing salt on your driveway if the forecast predicts snow or ice. Secondly, it’s important to have the right clothing and footwear. It’s tempting to walk out in slippers to pick up the newspaper or mail but take a moment to throw on boots with traction. If shoveling, remember that cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more vulnerable to injury so make sure you wear proper outerwear, which includes layers, a warm hat and gloves. If you are comfortable from the cold, you are less likely to fall.
DNS: What winter injury that you have treated has surprised you the most?
Dr. Villacis: Probably the most surprising has been seeing so many ankle and wrist fractures with the first ice and snow we just experienced (on Dec. 4). It’s only a ground-level fall but if you are not careful, you can really hurt yourself, especially on outdoor steps.
DNS: Are there any sports or exercises that people should do that can help prevent injury?
Dr. Villacis: Take the time to stretch your arms, back, and legs before any high-level activity. For shoveling, technique is crucial. Too often I see people shovel and lift snow off the driveway like they are digging a hole. There’s no need to fight gravity. Push the snow and let the shovel do the work to avoid straining your back.
DNS: What winter sports do you do? Have you been injured doing a winter sport?
Dr. Villacis I am an avid snow skier. By pure luck, I avoided serious injury when I was younger. Now that I’m older, I know my limits when selecting which runs to go down. A key to staying safe while enjoying winter sports is having the right equipment, which means I always wear a helmet when I ski, and one that is specifically for the sport. A bike helmet is not made for snow skiing.
DNS: What do you do recommend that people do to prevent winter sports injuries in terms of warming up, or preventative workouts like stretching, calisthenics, running or something else?
Dr. Villacis: The first rule is to stay warm. If you are comfortable, you are less likely to put yourself in a position to get injured. Always do some light stretching and begin slowly until you’re ready for higher-level activity. Never jump into any sport at 100 mph.
DNS: On a separate note, given the enormous popularity of activities like yoga and Pilates – do you see injuries from these activities?
Dr. Villacis: Yoga and Pilates both put a lot of emphasis on graduated levels of difficulty as well as proper stretching. Thankfully, there hasn’t been too much of an uptick in injuries. What I have seen is a huge increase in injuries from CrossFit. It’s a great workout but it’s not for everybody and takes time to work up to. It’s designed around explosive exercises for building power. Form is critical. If you have bad technique the margin of error is small and I see patients often getting hurt with several strains, or falls with twisted ankles and fractures. People need to build the workout routine slowly if they are starting from zero activity.