Few things in life can be quite as exhilarating as a good day skiing, especially here in Colorado! You feel the energy and motion, the wind across your body, and the intimate connection with the Rocky Mountains as your skis race over its surface, occasionally sending you airborne. However, as with any sport, skiing opens you up to the risk of injury. Happily, in the last 40 years or so, overall injuries from skiing accidents have been cut in half due to more advanced technologies. During this same period, leg breaks have dropped to 5% of their previous levels. Nevertheless, skiing obviously still has the potential to cause injuries. The following are some of the most common ski-related injuries and how to prevent them.
Head Injuries: It goes without saying that having your head collide with a solid object can be painful. Then there's the risk of serious injury-fractures or concussions with severe, long-term consequences, including loss of cognitive function, or even death. Studies have shown that wearing a helmet can reduce the number, and sometimes the severity, of head injuries. However, according to one study, helmets did not seem to help in reducing the number of fatalities. Speed is another factor in head injuries, the greater the speed, the greater the risk. So slow down, especially on crowded slopes. Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to yield to other skiers, even when you have the right-of-way. Don't assume that they are all as skilled as you are or that they can avoid a collision. Keep in mind that unskilled skiers are often fully-occupied just trying to stay upright and learn basic mechanics. The details of their new sport can be quite distracting and they may not see you.
Knee Injuries: Sprains and torn ligaments in the knee are quite common. They account for about 40% of all injuries in skiing. The best preventative measure is to exercise and condition the legs and knees for at least six weeks prior to ski season. During an accident, don't resist falling. That could result in greater injury. Also, don't hold too wide a snowplow stance. This can place undue stress on the knees, especially when turning.
Skier's Thumb: If you fall while still clutching your poles, you risk damaging your thumb joint. The instant you start to fall, let go of your ski poles. Also, ski poles with platforms or saber handles can increase your risk, so avoid them. Perhaps it might surprise you to learn that a thumb injury from a skiing accident can sometimes lead to long-term disability, especially if not treated properly. If you experience a fall while skiing and feel pain in your thumb afterward, see a hand specialist for a thorough examination. The specialist can determine if you have a partial or full tear of the ligament. A partial can be treated with a splint. A full tear will likely need surgery.
Spinal Damage: Collision in any sport risks causing damage to the spine, and skiing is no exception. It is easy for your spine to become misaligned after a fall. If you experience pain in your back or other shooting pain radiating along your extremities, see a chiropractor to assess and correct the damage.