What Are the Most Common Injuries in Winter Season?

It's that time of year when most areas in the United States have snow and ice on the ground.

Key takeaways:
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    Injuries occur during the winter months, including those from slips and falls, causing many hip fractures in the older population.
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    Popular winter sports that lead to injuries include skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.
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    The most common injuries from skiing are knee injuries, specifically the anterior cruciate ligament.
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    Sledding can cause head injuries in the younger population.

Unfortunately, even though these winter wonderlands are pleasing to the eyes, there are risks of injuries, especially from slips, falls, and shoveling snow. In addition, injuries can result from popular winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.

What injuries result from slips and falls on snow or ice?

One of the more common but serious injuries from a slip and fall is a fracture (break in the bone). In the elderly, fractures from falls are more often seen in the hips. At the same time, younger people sustain fractures in other areas, including the extremities (arms and legs), shoulder, clavicle (collarbone), and wrist.

A British Journal of Medicine study found that fractures are twice as likely to occur during snow-and-ice conditions compared to warm weather.

Among older people's hip fractures that arise from a fall, 95% specifically result from a sideways fall. In addition, women have more hip fractures than men due to the larger percentage of women with osteoporosis (thinning of the bones).

wrist fracture

A type of wrist fracture common in slip and fall injuries is called a Colles fracture (see diagram 1 above). It results from a fall on an outstretched wrist, fracturing the distal radius, which is the end of the forearm bone on the thumb side.

In addition, bruises can result from a fall. Bruises turn purple and then yellow as they heal. Many people become concerned over the yellow discoloration, but that’s a part of normal bruise healing.

Even if you don't fall hard enough to fracture a bone or form a bruise, a sprain (or strain) can result from stretching the ligaments or tendons. Ligaments connect bones to other bones, while tendons connect muscles to bones. In classical definitions, a sprain involves stretching the ligaments, while a strain involves stretching the muscles or tendons. Nowadays, the terms are used interchangeably.

Many people develop low back pain and soreness from shoveling snow due to the repeated bending and straightening of the low back. Other snow shoveling-related issues include arm or neck pain, especially the following day after shoveling.

However, sprains and strains are not the most serious medical consequence of shoveling snow: a cardiac (heart) event can result. For instance, just a few weeks ago, two men died from heart attacks when shoveling snow in Buffalo, New York, after a blizzard.

Thus, we recommend checking with your physician before shoveling snow. If you have any heart attack symptoms, go to your nearest emergency room. The symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, left arm, or shoulder.

Injuries from skiing and snowboarding

One study published in the Western Journal of Medicine found 2.6 injuries for every 1,000 skier days (a day that one person goes skiing). Furthermore, the study found the knee was the most frequently injured area, at 35% of all injuries. More specifically, the knee's anterior cruciate ligament is the most commonly injured part of the knee.

Another study published in the Sports Health Journal reviewed literature from 1985 to 2018 pertaining to alpine skiing injuries. It found that even though ski equipment has been advancing, the rate of anterior cruciate ligament knee injuries has remained the same.

Lastly, a study done from 1972 to 2006 on alpine ski injuries in the resorts of Northern Vermont ski areas (USA) found that overall injuries decreased by 55%, over these 34 years, due to better equipment. So better equipment appears to help reduce injuries.

Snowboarding injuries vary depending on whether the snowboarder is a novice or an expert. For example, novice snowboarders are more likely to injure the wrist, while more seasoned snowboarders have more ankle injuries due to performing stunts. Therefore, metal wrist guards are always a good idea for new snowboarders.

Injuries from sledding

A study was published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine evaluated emergency room data from 220,000 sledding injuries from 2008 to 2017. It assessed injuries from sleds, toboggans, snow disks, and snow tubes (an inflatable product usually in a circular shape).

Results showed that children sustained 70% of the injuries, and fractures were the most common among all injuries. In addition, children were more likely to sustain a head injury compared to adults. Finally, most injuries occurred from collisions with objects in the environment, including obstacles like branches, trees, etc.

Given these findings, it's recommended a helmet be worn when sledding and to enjoy the sport in an obstacle-free area.

How to prevent common snow and ice injuries

Many ways to prevent snow and ice injuries are common sense, but we'll state them here.

How to avoid slipping and falling on ice or snow

  • Wear non-slip shoes, especially when walking on ice.
  • Make sure all walkways are plowed and have deicing salt on them.
  • Elderly people should hold onto someone for support.
  • Use a handrail whenever available.
  • Walk slowly and take small steps.

How to avoid skiing or snowboard injuries

  • Stretch and warm up before going down the slopes.
  • Strengthen the leg muscles on off days.
  • Use well maintained skis, properly fitting boots, poles (for skiers), ski/snowboard goggles, and a helmet.

How to avoid injuries from shoveling snow

  • Try to exercise lightly before shoveling snow, like running in place.
  • Use a lightweight shovel.
  • Wear a back brace.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Lift with your knees and not your back.

For skiing, snowboarding, and shoveling snow, keeping hydrated is very important.

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