Reducing your risk for common skiing and snowboarding injuries |

Reducing your risk for common skiing and snowboarding injuries

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Nearly all orthopaedic injuries that happen on the mountain are fixable, even if the injury is relatively significant, said Dr. Terrell Joseph, orthopaedic surgeon at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics.
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Injury prevention

Dr. Joseph has the following advice for anyone looking to reduce their overall risk for winter sports-related injuries:

  • Always stay in control while skiing or snowboarding
    “It’s remarkable how many of our patients tell us, ‘I just kind of got out of control,’” Dr. Joseph said.
  • Have an awareness of other people.

“You can tell that some people, even if they’re skiing in control, don’t have an awareness of where other people are on the mountain, even when it’s really crowded,” Dr. Joseph said. “Some of the worst injuries we see are collisions, either with other people or with fixed objects.”

  • Stretch and stay conditioned

It’s important to do pre-season conditioning and then make sure you stay conditioned during the season. Some good exercises for this include stationary biking, yoga and Pilates about 2 to 3 times per week during the season.

As for stretching, make sure you focus on your quads, hamstrings and achilles tendons (from the back of your calf to your heel bone).

  • Wear a helmet

While orthopaedic injuries are often fixable, brain injuries sometimes are not. Dr. Joseph advises all skiers and snowboarders to wear helmets on the mountain.



Vail-Summit Orthopaedics physicians see a lot of preventable injuries each season

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Vail-Summit Orthopaedics

As powder days continue to bring joy to skiers and snowboarders in Summit County, the surgeons at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics remain busy with a consistent stream of the less joyous side of winter sports: injuries.

While some orthopaedic injuries do require surgery, many also heal on their own with rest, ice, compression and elevation, known as RICE treatment. The good news is that nearly all orthopaedic injuries are fixable.

“Even if the injury is relatively significant, about 95 to 98 percent of the injuries we see are treatable,” said Dr. Terrell Joseph, orthopaedic surgeon at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics.

That’s good news for patients, but many also want to know how to prevent these injuries from happening in the first place. That requires practicing good habits both on and off the mountain, Dr. Joseph said.

“Stay in control and have an awareness of others on the mountain, and stay conditioned during the season, and you can have a lifetime of skiing and snowboarding pleasure,” Dr. Joseph said.

Because orthopaedic injuries from the mountain are so prevalent, here’s a look at what the most common injuries are and how to treat them.

Knee injuries

Knee injuries are more common in skiers but they do also happen to snowboarders. A tear to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is a major injury that takes about an hour and a half surgery to reconstruct, and then it’s about 6 months before the patient can return to their sport. It also requires a lot of intensive physical therapy, Dr. Joseph said.

Meniscus tears, which are common in conjunction with ACL tears, tend to recover fairly quickly, especially when it’s an isolated injury.

A strain to the medial collateral ligament, or MCL, typically requires RICE treatment, but higher level strains might require bracing until the pain disappears.

Tibia fractures

The tibia is the large bone in the lower, front side of the leg, also known as the shinbone. A tibia fracture can happen when a skier experiences a significant rotary torque of the ski. Dr. Joseph said this is a really common injury. Vail-Summit Orthopaedics surgeons perform about 5 to 7 of these operations on a busy surgical day, he said.

“With tibia, and also femur fractures, they typically require a rod or a plate and screws depending on the location of the injury,” he said. “They recover surprisingly well — it’s about an 8- to- 12-week window and most patients can get back to sport in about 3 months.”

Skier’s Thumb

There’s something called the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL, in the thumb. When this ligament ruptures, it’s known as Skier’s Thumb. The injury usually happens in skiers who fall while holding onto their ski poles, Dr. Joseph said. A low level injury, grades 1 or 2, usually just require RICE treatment and a brace. A grade 3 injury would require a 20-minute operation with a very predictable healing rate of about 2 months.

Wrist injuries

Wrist injuries, which are very common for snowboarders, typically heal in 6 to 8 weeks with a cast or splint. More severe fractures might require plates and screws via surgery, with an excellent full recovery expected for nearly 100 percent of patients. A lower level wrist sprain usually just requires RICE treatment, Dr. Joseph said.

“Snowboarders have a lot more wrist injuries than skiers,” he said. “Nearly 50 percent of snowboarding injuries are in beginners, so my big piece of advice for anyone beginning to learn how to snowboard is to consider wearing wrist braces.”

Shoulder injuries

There are several types of shoulder injuries that can happen during a skiing or snowboarding accident. An acromioclavicular joint, or AC joint, injury is almost always non-operative and takes about 3 to 6 weeks to heal, Dr. Joseph said.

A shoulder dislocation typically takes about 6 to 8 weeks, and would only require surgery if the injury becomes recurrent and unstable, after which recovery would take longer.

A clavicle fracture, also known as a broken collarbone, is a painful injury that can make it hard to move the arm. If the collarbone is displaced, it would require surgery and recovery is about 6 to 8 weeks, Dr. Joseph said.

The rotator cuff includes muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder. Treatment of these injuries is “all over the map,” Dr. Joseph said. Younger people typically don’t need surgery but people over the age of about 50 often do require surgery and 3 to 6 months recovery time.

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