How to Prevent Winter Sport Injuries

Published: 10:38 am, Mon December 19, 2022

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Watching your children play their favorite winter sports is exciting, but there’s always a little voice in the back of your head hoping they don’t get hurt. After reading this blog, you’ll have a better understanding of common winter sports injuries, and how to prevent sports injuries if they occur.


1. Concussions

Concussions are one of the more common winter sports injuries; anyone who falls on their head is at risk of a brain injury. More often than not, we see this in skating, ice hockey, skiing, and snowboarding. 

Symptoms of a concussion can include both mental and physical signs, for example, not being able to remember events, answering or speaking slowly, and showing mood or behavior changes. Physically, you’re likely to get a headache, become nauseous, and be bothered by bright lights and loud noises. 

Concussions can be hard to prevent, but ensuring you’re wearing the proper gear and limiting the number of physical contact players have during practice can help increase your safety. Since concussions are mental injuries as well, it’s essential that you aren’t playing with symptoms and are taking the necessary steps to heal.

2. Dislocated Shoulder

When you fall while snowboarding or skiing, you may suffer from a dislocated shoulder if you fall and overextend your arm to catch yourself. This will place a traumatic force on your shoulder joint and cause an injury. 

After the injury, you’re likely to experience arm stiffness, lack of mobility, and a sensation in your shoulder, like it’s slipping out of place. You may also notice the area swells, starts to bruise, and becomes numb. 

Our orthopedic shoulder specialists can place the dislocated bone back into place through a process called closed reduction. You will then wear a sling until everything has healed. Afterward, you can gain mobility and strength through physical therapy.  

To help prevent this winter sports injury, it’s crucial to strengthen and stabilize your shoulder. Especially if you’re playing or doing any activity that is prone to a dislocated shoulder. Listed below are small exercises that you can do to strengthen your rotator cuff and shoulder blade.

  • Side-lying external rotation - While laying on your side with a small weight in your hand, bend your arm at a 90-degree angle and rotate your arm up and down. 
  • Counter half push-up - Like a standing push-up, lean against a counter and push up and arch your back as far as you can without it being painful. You shouldn’t go all the way down or nose dive into the counter. 
  • Bent over row - Putting one hand on the edge of the table and using the other to hold a light weight, pull the weight up and focus on squeezing your shoulder blade back.

a doctor wrapping an injured ankle into a cast

3. Skier's Thumb

Similar to a dislocated shoulder, a skier’s thumb occurs when you fall and stretch out your arm to help the impact. The reason this injury is called skier’s thumb is that it’s likely you will tear or stretch your thumb if you’re holding a ski pole as you fall. 

Initially, you may experience swelling, bruising, redness, and pain. Depending on the impact and severity of the injury, you are likely to feel this pain throughout your entire hand. Treatments range from resting your hand and icing it, to physical therapy and surgery to fix the ligament tear. 

A way to prevent a skier’s thumb is to make sure you’re not holding your poles when you fall. You should train yourself to toss them to the side if you start to fall so you can use your hands to brace yourself.

4. Ankle Sprain

An ankle sprain is a common injury in every season, so it’s essential to understand how to prevent this sports injury. Adding ice to the mix only increases your chance of falling, so sports like ice hockey, skiing, and snowboarding can cause you to sprain your ankle. 

Ankle sprains are no different than other injuries, and can vary in severity and treatment. If you’re playing basketball this winter and twist your ankle, it probably just needs some ice, elevation, and rest. However, untreated injuries or ignoring your pain can lead to a host of new problems and a longer recovery time. 

Although you won’t be able to protect yourself from falling, you can strengthen your muscles and ensure they are fully stretched and warmed up before starting your activity. After initial impact and time to rest, you can start doing simple stretches that will help improve your sprain and help you get back to playing. 

These stretches assist you in bringing back your full range of motion.

  • Ankle Alphabet - while sitting, extend your leg out and trace the alphabet in the air with your big toe. This exercise can be completed 2 or 3 times if you feel no pain. 
  • Towel Scrunches - with your bare foot, place a towel on the floor and sit in a chair. You’ll then start to carefully grab the towel with your toes and scrunch for up to 5 seconds, this can be done 8 to 10 times depending on your pain levels. 
  • Towel Stretch - On the floor, extend your leg straight out in front of you and wrap a towel around the ball of your foot. Then, pull back the towel so your toes move towards you, hold this stretch for 10 seconds. This is a moderate stretch and it’s important to not overdo it and cause more pain.

5. Stress Fractures

The difference between a stress fracture and an ankle sprain is a fracture is a break in your bone while a sprain refers to an injury in your soft tissue. Because of the similarities between these two injuries, it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s a fracture or sprain. 

If you feel like your injury is more severe and looking to seek professional treatment, it’s best to go to an orthopedic specialist so you can get a specialized plan to get you back to feeling your best. 

Stress fractures are common winter sports injuries because they are caused by the repetitive use of the bone or muscle. For example, if you’re playing basketball and constantly jumping up and down for rebounds and plays, you may be weakening your ankles and eventually going to experience a stress fracture. 

Stress fractures are also common if you are suddenly returning to your sport after time away. Although it is always important to stretch and warm up before you play, it’s especially important if you are just starting again, as your muscles haven’t been used that intensely in some time. 

To help prevent this sports injury, try eating rich-calcium foods that strengthen your bone density. You should also try to cross-train as much as possible. Although this may be difficult during your sport season, try to mix up the exercises you do or the drills you’re practicing.

a swimmer performing a breaststroke

6. Breaststroker's Knee

As the name suggests, breaststroker’s knee is common in breaststroke swimmers because of the kick involved that can strain your medial collateral ligament or your MCL. The leg kick in the breaststroke move is very important, this motion is called a whip kick and plays a key role in a swimmer’s success. 

When you experience an injury to your MCL, you may hear a popping sound, see swelling, and have a difficult time using the full range of motion of your knee. You may also experience pain when you’re walking, sitting, or climbing stairs.

The central cause of this winter sports injury is if your knees aren’t as stable or flexible. Similar to stress fractures, if you’ve spent a lot of time out of the water and start back up again, you are more prone to injure yourself. 

Spending time outside of the water lifting and going to the gym will help your knees get stronger and aid in prevention. Some exercises include:

  • Hip thrusts
  • Romanian deadlifts
  • Lunges
  • Hip abduction
  • Squats

7. ACL Tears

Similar to a breaststroker’s knee, an anterior cruciate ligament or ACL tear is a common winter sports injury, especially in alpine skiing or ice hockey. An ACL tear is also common in basketball players and gymnastic athletes. 

An ACL tear is usually from suddenly stopping or slowing down, hyperextension, or pivoting in place. When you injure your ACL, you will likely feel intense pain or hear a loud pop. The result of this is then swelling and instability. 

The knee joint accounts for almost one-third of all injuries in alpine skiers. Even though an ACL injury is most common, it is typically in conjunction with another knee joint injury, for example tearing your MCL as well. 

This type of injury should be taken seriously and cannot be resolved by just resting and icing your knee. A majority of people will need physical therapy and a brace to regain their full range of motion and improve their strength. 

As you prepare for a season of winter sports, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of potential injuries and action steps to prevent further injury or pain.

Have additional questions about looking after your health? Our orthopedic specialists can provide insight on how to prevent sports injuries as well as personalized treatment plans for when an injury occurs.

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