Safety on the Slopes: Common Injuries & How to Avoid Them

Winter is a magical time of year for skiers and snowboarders who relish the opportunity to carve up the slopes or zip through fresh powder. Unfortunately, both novice and experienced athletes alike are at risk of being injured by the sports they love. Here are a few of the most common injuries on the slopes and what you can do to keep having fun all season long.

Skier’s Thumb

Most of the time, ski poles help skiers avoid injuries by providing balance and stability on the slopes. However, if you fall unexpectedly, the handle of the pole may push your thumb backwards too much, resulting in stretching or tearing the ligament between the thumb and index finger. Symptoms may include immediate pain, swelling and bruising at the base of the thumb, and trouble grasping or pinching with your thumb and index finger.

See a doctor or physiotherapist ASAP if you suspect you have skier’s thumb, as you may need a splint, or if it’s severe enough, even surgery. In the meantime, ice the thumb for 15-20 minutes, up to four times a day. Stabilize the thumb with a wrist brace or a tensor bandage.

How to avoid the injury:
When you fall, let go of your ski poles instead of clutching them. Use poles with finger-groove grips instead of wrist straps and make sure you hold the poles properly with the handle fitting into the web-space (the “V”) between your thumb and index finger — you should not have the backside of the handle against the inside of your thumb.

Knee Injuries

About one-third of all skiing injuries involve the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee.

The risk of injury is highest for skiers who are relatively new to skiing, over 40 years of age, or using fat skis. This injury is caused by a forceful twist of the knee joint, sometimes as a result of a fall or an awkward landing from a ski jump. Tell-tale signs include a ‘pop’ sound at the time of injury, followed by knee pain, swelling, and tenderness on the inside of the knee. Depending on the severity of the injury, it may also be painful to walk or straighten the leg.

Stop skiing immediately. If the injury is not too severe, it will likely heal with PRICE (Protection-bracing, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) and physiotherapy treatment. On occasion, if the ligaments in the knee are completely torn and the person is not able to manage with this injury, then surgery may be required.

How to avoid the injury:
Avoid skiing when you’re fatigued (most injuries happen at the end of the day or toward the end of a ski vacation). Maintain your fitness all year so your body is strong and flexible when you hit the slopes. Take extra care to strengthen the muscles around your knees, hips and core muscles.

Wrist Injuries

For snowboarders, wrist injuries are common. With two feet attached to a single snowboard, boarders only have their hands to break a fall. This can result in strains (overstretched muscles), sprains (overstretched ligaments), and fractures to the small bones of the wrist or the end of the forearm bone (radius). You’ll know something’s wrong if you experience pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, and warmth around the injury. With any of these injuries, you may feel a popping or snapping sensation.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury and the amount of pain experienced by the person. If there is immediate swelling and bruising and it’s extremely painful to move the wrist, a doctor should be seen right away to take X-rays and determine if there’s a fracture. If there isn’t immediate swelling or bruising, then use the PRICE method of treatment and see a Physiotherapist or Physician to determine the severity of the injury and the proper treatment.

How to avoid the injury:
Wrist guards designed for snowboarding will decrease your likelihood of injury. Learn how to fall properly from a snowboarding professional. You can also strengthen your wrists with exercises using free weights (like wrist curls) or your own body weight (like push ups).

Worried about injury?

If you’ve fallen on the slopes and are in pain, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a medical professional. Minor injuries can often be treated with physiotherapy, and you can book an appointment here without a doctor’s referral. If you want to learn more about how to keep your body safe this ski season, check out these nine exercises you can do at home.