Winter Sports Injuries: An Ounce of Prevention

By Trek Lyons MD

Few things create more excitement than waking up on a crisp winter morning and finding that Mother Nature generously buried the mountains with a “monster dump” of snow during the night. More than equally depressing, however, is dealing with an overuse injury or sustaining a traumatic injury on such a morning. Preparation and daily planning are the pillars for preventing most such injuries in winter sports.​

Winter 20Running
​Daily planning through November can prepare your body for the cardiorespiratory, muscle strength,and endurance demands of winter sports in December through March. The American College of Sports Medicine 
recommends most adults engage in moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise training for at least 30 minutes per day on five days per week for a
total of at least 150 minutes per week. Vigorous-intensity cardiorespiratory 
exercise can be done less often with recommended training for at least 20
minutes per day on three days per week totaling at least 60 minutes per week. A combination of moderate- and vigorousintensity exercise should achieve a total energy expenditure of at least 500-1,000 metabolic equivalent minutes per week. A metabolic equivalent (MET) is a measure expressing the energy cost of physical activities. The higher the MET, the more intense the exercise.

On two to three days per week, adults should also perform resistance exercises for each of the major muscle groups, as well as neuromotor exercise involving balance, agility, and coordination. 

These recommendations from The American College of Sports Medicine 
assist in establishing a baseline minimum fitness level. In Cache Valley, exercise options include Intermountain sports performance, community health centers, fitness centers, and Cross-Fit programs. Home programs such as the Wii fit, P90X or Insanity by Beachbody, Rip-60, and other DVD-based programs provide virtually everyone with an opportunity to improve his or her fitness and to prepare for winter sports activities. After first obtaining a foundation of fitness,progression to more sport-specific activities can reduce risk for many injuries, as well as enhance performance.

Specific cold-weather related conditions, known as hypothermic injuries (i.e. frost nip and frostbite), may be prevented by careful planning in how and what you use to layer your clothing, as well as when you exercise. Synthetic moisturewicking material provides the base layer followed by cold-resistant and moisture- or wind-resistant layers, depending on environmental conditions. In extreme cold-weather conditions, exercise should always be done with another individual after informing others where and when 
your exercise will be accomplished. You can then make the most of everyday, yet safely enjoy exercising another day.

One common and often underrecognized winter sports-related 
condition is relative dehydration. Lower levels of hydration can lead to 
decreased performance and contribute to many muscle strains. Staying
hydrated usually takes a more concerted effort in cold environments than
relying as much on our thirst drive in heat environments.

As with sports during other times of the year, traumatic brain injuries can range from the apparent mild to lethal. Helmets unquestionably reduce skull fractures and development of epidural bleeding around the brain; some research studies suggest helmets may reduce the severity of some
concussions.
Months before heading out downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country 
skiing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, ice fishing, or any other winter sports-related activity, get your body prepared by following daily planned exercise. Each day you participate, get your muscles warmed up, stay hydrated, and limit injury risk by wearing proper equipment and clothing. By doing so, you will recognize your ability level, as well as
the needed volume of exercise for that day relative to your true fitness level. 

With your body prepared, you can safely embrace Mother Nature and her wonderful wintertime fun.