Ski and Snowboard Injuries
By Dirk Dugan, MD
This time of year local
orthopedists see a lot of patients with injuries from downhill and
cross-country skiing and snowboarding. Some of these injuries can be avoided by
exercising a little caution.
If you are just learning one of
these sports, it’s a good idea to take some lessons so you can learn basic form
and safety. Try to resist overdoing it your first time out because too much
time on the slopes before you’ve strengthened the affected muscle groups will
leave you very sore. And, generally speaking, if you are older than forty
remember to take things a little more slowly, especially if you are a
I like to caution beginning skiers
about ski collisions, which can result in injuries and which occur mainly on
the beginner slopes. If you are skiing on a hill marked “green,” you should ski
defensively. These slopes are populated with adolescent skiers and beginners of
all ages who haven’t yet mastered turning and stopping. If you have stopped on
a beginner slope, be sure to look uphill for oncoming skiers who may not be
totally in control.
One of the most common of injuries
in downhill skiers of all skill levels is a sprain of the medial collateral ligament
of the knees. This ligament is about three inches long and runs along the
inside of the knee. Sprains often occur when the tip of the ski gets caught,
twisting the knee. If the sprain is bad enough, it may require a toboggan ride
down to the bottom of the hill. Fortunately, this particular injury does not
require surgery and typically heals with a temporary brace, ice, and ibuprofen.
If you a cross-country beginner,
start skiing on level ground and avoid trails with slopes. This is especially
important if you do not have prior downhill skiing experience; we see the worst
cross-country skiing injuries when people who are not good downhill skiers go
downhill on cross-country skis. I also recommend that when first learning to cross-country
ski, stick to paths with packed snow. Cross-country skiing on powder snow that
is unpacked takes a certain level of skill. You can find yourself in trouble if
you are not able to turn and you catch your ski on a sapling.
“Taking air” on a snowboard
There is an expression among
snowboarders called “taking air,” during which they leave the ground either
while moving downhill or while moving back and forth between two frozen curved
walls. Snowboarders love to “take air” but if you aren’t skilled enough, you
can suffer significant injuries to your upper extremities. We’ve treated broken
arms, wrists, elbows, hands, and shoulders resulting from snowboarders taking
air at high speeds. You can avoid injuries with less air and a lower speed. You
should also consider wearing wrist protectors.
Among the great attractions of
living in the Finger Lakes Region is the opportunity to participate in winter
sports. Getting out into the beautiful winter landscape is invigorating and by
taking up a winter sport you can increase your strength and agility. However,
as with all sports, prudent judgment plays an important role in enjoying your
sport and avoiding injuries. However, if you do sustain an injury, there is
excellent sports medicine treatment available in this community.
Dugan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and serves on the medical staff
of Cayuga Medical Center. He is in practice with Orthopedic Services of Cayuga
Medical Associates, where he can be reached at (607)-272-7000. Dr. Dugan has a
special interest in sports medicine and is the team physician for the Cornell
hockey and football teams.