Winter provides a great opportunity across Canada to enjoy skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, hockey, and other winter sports. Unfortunately, as fun as these activities can be, they also pose the risk of personal injury. In recent years, hospitals in British Columbia have seen increasing numbers of patients injured while participating in winter sports.
To help you and your loved ones better understand the risks associated with winter sports and how to avoid them, we’ve collected information about five common winter sports injuries in British Columbia and tips on how to prevent them.
Damaged ACL or MCL
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is the main knee ligament connecting the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). Although leg fractures sustained while skiing are fairly rare, tears or other damage to the ACL is quite common. These injuries typically occur when a skier falls and twists his or her knee by reaching uphill or squatting to break the fall.
ACL tears also often result from failing to land a jump on both skis, causing the tibia to push up against the femur.
ACL Safety Tips:
- Ensuring that you do not sit down during a fall and that your arms remain forward can help prevent injury while skiing.
- Keeping your legs flexed and bent while landing a jump can also help avoid injury.
Another common knee injury often sustained by skiers is damage to the medial collateral ligament (MCL). Like the ACL, the MCL connects the femur to the tibia on the inside of the knee. It helps protect the knee against sideways forces (called valgus forces) that could cause the knee to bend outwards.
Injury to the MCL typically occurs when a skier falls while the tips of his or her skis are angled towards each other in a triangular snow plow position.
MCL Safety Tips:
- Keeping your skis parallel or balancing your weight while in the snow plow position can help prevent MCL injuries.
Skier’s thumb or gamekeeper’s thumb refers to a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) at the base of the thumb. Like the MCL in the knee, the UCL in the thumb helps protect against valgus forces. But too much force on the UCL can cause it to tear.
In skiing, this typically occurs when a skier falls on an outstretched hand while holding a ski pole, putting force on the thumb and stretching or tearing the UCL. This type of injury can also occur in other sports, like volleyball, when someone attempts to break a fall by stretching out his or her hand.
Skier’s Thumb Safety Tips:
- You can avoid this type of accident while skiing by discarding rather than gripping your ski pole when falling.
Immediate pressure placed on the wrist during a fall can result in injury such as fractures. Unfortunately, immediate pressure on the wrist is our natural reaction to falling, because we instinctively reach out to brace ourselves against the fall. Falling is especially common in winter sports, because they include all manner of snow, ice, and other slick conditions.
Fractures that extend into the joint can be particularly severe because they may lead to arthritis.
Wrist Injury Safety Tips:
- By wearing a wrist guard, you can help protect your wrist in the event of a fall.
Falls on ice can often lead to a sprained or fractured ankle. In some cases, surgery may be required to repair an ankle fracture. Like wrist fractures, ankle fractures can be particularly serious because, if the fracture extends into the joint, it can lead to arthritis down the road. That can mean further surgeries, including an ankle fusion or replacement surgery.
Ankle Injury Safety Tips:
- Use well-fitting footwear when engaging in winter sports.
- Do ankle exercises regularly and in preparation for playing a winter sport to help keep your ankle strong.
With the falls that commonly occur in snowboarding, skiing, hockey, and ice skating, concussions are also common injuries sustained in winter sports. Concussions result when impact to the head causes trauma. Concussions are a leading cause of death and disability among skiers and snowboarders, and the symptoms of these types of injuries can be permanent.
Even minor concussions can lead to serious and permanent symptoms. It is important to seek out treatment soon after a concussion and treat this as a serious injury to increase your chances of a full recovery.
Concussion Safety Tips:
- Wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding can help protect you against concussions.
Protect Yourself Against Winter Sports Injuries in British Columbia
Winter sports can be great fun for the whole family, but participating in them safely requires a bit of thought and preparation beforehand. Understanding what risks winter sports pose to your health and safety and how best to avoid those risks can let you and your family safely engage in all that British Columbia’s winter sports scene has to offer.