Winter Sports Injuries - Facts and Figures

By Stephanie Tennant RN

Spinal injuries are among the most devastating injuries associated with all winter recreational sports. Here are the facts about skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and sledding-related injuries.

winter sports related injuries facts and figures

Downhill Skiing

Downhill skiing is one of the world’s most popular winter sports. However, it also carries a high risk of injury. Most investigators agree that younger skiers are at increased risk. Children have a higher rate of ski-related fractures of the lower extremities than adults. Spiral fracture of the tibia is most common in children. In a five year retrospective study of patients younger than 19 years, who had been admitted to a trauma center after a skiing accident, 58% had been involved in collisions with stationary objects. Helmet use was negligible.

Between 20 and 30 deaths from downhill skiing accidents occur each year in this country. The cause of death is massive head or neck injury, and/or major thoraco-abdominal injury. The main contributing factors are excessive speed and loss of control. One study found only 1 in 16 injured skiers wear a helmet.

Snowboarding

Snowboarding is the fastest growing winter sport in the United States. Snowboarders do not use ski poles for balance, but use their hands and arms for balance. Therefore, associated injuries frequently involve upper extremities and ankles. The knees are less frequently involved than in traditional alpine skiing.

Snowmobiling

With vehicles that reach speeds of 90 mph and weigh more than 600 pounds, it is not surprising that snowmobiling causes more than 200 deaths and nearly 14,000 accidents each year. Incredibly, children younger than 17 years sustain 12% of all snowmobile injuries. Out of a reported 70 snowmobile-related injuries in persons 2 to 17 years of age, injuries had been caused by losing control of the sled, rollover, striking a fixed object or striking another sled. 15 accidents involved more than one person, and five of the injured children were pedestrians. Three deaths in this series were related to head trauma.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed available snowmobile injury data from 1997 to 1998. During that time there were more than 10,000 emergency department visits related to snowmobile accidents. Ten percent of those involved were younger than 15 years of age. Head trauma was the leading cause of death.

Many states have no age or helmet regulations regarding snowmobile use.

Sledding

New research shows that 30 percent of children hospitalized following a sledding injury suffered significant head injuries, and 10 percent of these children acquired a permanent disability. The research supported the need for helmet use and other safety precautions to prevent traumatic sledding injuries.

Researchers reviewed data on children younger than 18 who were hospitalized at a pediatric trauma center from 2003 to 2011. The 52 children included 34 boys and 18 girls with an average age of 10. The most common cause of injury was caused by their sled hitting a tree, which occurred in 63.5 percent of the cases. 37% (20 children) suffered a head injury, with 70 percent of these children admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Three acquired a permanent disability, including cognitive impairment, and two others required long-term hospitalized rehabilitation. Other injuries included fractures (17 children), solid organ injuries (10), vertebral fractures (3), and chest trauma (1). Nine orthopedic injuries required operative intervention, and eight patients were sent home with a cast.

The Utah Department of Health released a data collection from 2009 covering sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injury hospitalizations and deaths in Utah, which shows that 8.6 percent of these injuries were from snow sports.

References:

Skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling data quoted from Srinivasan Suresh, MD, MBA “Winter sports Injuries: Patterns of Injury – PreMeasures”. Pediatricsconsultant360.com

Sledding data quoted from the American Academy of Pediatrics “Sledding Injuries: A Significant Cause of Hospitalizations, Injuries during Winter Months 10-15-11.