It’s that time of year to head to the mountains and enjoy the recreational activities the winter season provides. In the Northwest, there are many great ways to get exercise and have a blast doing so. Staying safe and avoiding injuries are essential to making the most of your adventures.
While some cold weather injuries are just unavoidable bad luck, there are steps you can take to stay healthy and strong and keep injuries at bay.
Avoiding injury during activity
One unwanted side of winter activities is injuries. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, skiing results in approximately 114,000 injuries each year, and another 80,000 are caused by snowboarding. Injuries can also happen when sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing, playing hockey, or hiking in the snow.
The most important steps you can take to prevent injury all come down to being proactive. Physical conditioning, having the right clothing and gear, and using good judgment will help you stay safe this season.
Proper Physical Conditioning
You shouldn’t wait until your first day on the slopes to think about getting in shape. To properly prepare for winter sports, begin around 6-8 weeks before the season starts and focus on:
- endurance, and
- physical fitness
Strengthening the right muscles helps support your ligaments and tendons to prevent joint injuries. This physical preparation should emphasize core work and lower body strength, including large leg muscles and the smaller muscles in your ankles and feet that can get overlooked. These muscle groups are critical for balance, stability, and coordination, all of which are important factors in preventing injury. Lower body mobility is equally as important as strength and endurance training.
Along with working on strength and mobility, it’s also crucial to make sure your cardiovascular health is strong enough to safely participate in your favorite winter sports. This is especially true if you’re older than 45 or play sports that challenge your heart, such as cross-country skiing, intense downhill skiing, snowboarding, and hockey.
Lastly, fuel up well for your outdoor adventure. This includes starting the day with enough calories to fuel your exertion, hydrating before your activity, and continuing to hydrate throughout the day.
Wear the right clothing and gear
When exercising in the cold, dress appropriately! Wearing inadequate clothing can increase your risk of injury. If you’re soaked, have cold feet or poor circulation, this puts extra stress on your body and decreases coordination and the ability to sense your environment.
Dressing appropriately includes equipment, too. Most importantly, you should always wear a helmet in relevant sports, and also that your boots, skates, snowshoes, skis, etc. should fit properly to limit the chance of getting injured.
Use good judgment
There are certain other behaviors that can increase your risk of injury. Challenging yourself in an activity is great, but it’s important to know where your limits are. Doing things that are far beyond your skill level can easily result in injuring or endangering yourself and others.
Part of knowing your limits is being aware of your past injury history, and listening to what your body is telling you. Do you have a history of knee injuries and notice that moguls make your knees feel sore or unstable? In such case, it’s a good idea to stay away from them to protect your joints.
If you’re an adventurer, take a friend or family member with you, especially if you’re heading off the beaten path. If you’re enjoying the snow at a ski area or resort, stay within the boundaries to avoid unexpected dangers or risky terrain.
It’s always a good idea to use common sense and practice good judgment in whatever activity you choose.
When to seek medical attention
In the case of a broken bone or dislocation, head to urgent care or the ER. Other times, you might have a more subtle injury that you think you can “walk off” or let heal with time. Ignoring the issue can exacerbate the injury, so it’s important to seek guidance from an Orthopedic doctor.
In general, if you have:
- locking or stiffness
- swelling, and/or
- joint instability
that doesn’t subside with rest, time, ice, or other alleviation efforts, it’s a sign you need help from a medical professional. If you’re not getting better, continuing to avoid medical help may make the injury worse. If you’re in pain or you can’t perform your daily activities, don’t wait to seek help.
Western Washington Medical Group has Orthopedic doctors who can expertly diagnose and prescribe treatment for all types of sports and joint injuries. In addition, ankle injuries can be treated at our Orthopedic or our Podiatry clinic.
For a professional assessment of your sports injury, request an appointment with our skilled providers today.
If you need surgery
If you and your care providers determine surgery is needed, WWMG’s Gateway Surgery Center offers patients personal attention, greater ease of scheduling, and lower costs than surgery in a hospital.