Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

January 5, 1995

How to prepare for winter sports — sports medicine doctor offers some tips

Skiing and snowboarding are two of the area's most popular winter sports. But both entail a high risk of injury, especially for people who are not in good shape, do not take time to learn about proper techniques and equipment, and ski or snowboard when they are too tired, says Pitt orthopaedic surgeon Christopher Harner.

Harner, chief of sports medicine and associate medical director of Pitt's Center for Sports Medicine, offers the following tips to help skiers and snowboarders prepare for the upcoming season and prevent injuries once they are on the slopes.

Preparing for the ski season

* Skiers should be doing aerobic exercises such as jogging, cycling and aerobic dancing for at least 20 minutes, three times a week. Skiers who are in good overall condition will not fatigue as quickly and will be at less risk for injuries.

* Do exercises to strengthen the thighs, hamstrings, calves, hips and groin. To isolate muscle groups used in skiing, do simple exercises or use standard or specialized exercise equipment such as fiberglass slide boards and ski simulators.

* Stretching exercises, which should not be painful, should be done before and after activity. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and do not bounce while stretching.

* For beginners: Before hitting the slopes, take a few lessons from a ski instructor to learn proper techniques and minimize injury.

Preventing skiing injuries

* The leading cause of severe lower extremity skiing injuries is ski bindings that do not properly release during falls. All equipment, especially bindings, should be checked before every outing. Boots and their bindings should fit snugly and securely to protect the ankle from moving inside the boot.

* With the new higher boots that fit just below the knee, knee ligament injuries have become more common in skiers. Knee ligament tears may reoccur without proper treatment and rehabilitation. All ligament tears should be evaluated by an orthopaedic surgeon.

* When dressing for a ski outing, consider the wind chill, humidity and environmental moisture in addition to the surrounding temperature. Dress in layers to trap warm air. The layer closest to the skin should not be fabric that absorbs perspiration. Non-absorbing wool and some synthetics such as polypropylene are recommended to keep moisture away from the body. The outer layer should be water- and wind-resistant. As you begin to ski, you should feel slightly cool. Then, your body will warm up as you increase your activity.

* To help prevent frostbite and hypothermia, wear a thin pair of gloves underneath a heavier pair; wear a face shield or goggles; apply petroleum jelly to exposed areas; and always wear a wool or nylon ski cap since up to 40 percent of total body heat can be lost through the head.

* Even skiers who consider themselves advanced should start each outing with a warm-up on a lower-level slope before hitting steep slopes. To help minimize muscle soreness and injury, do pre-skiing easy calisthenics or jogging in place followed by overall stretching exercises, especially if you've been riding in a car for a long distance.

* Fluid replacement is just as essential in cold weather as in hot. Drinking plenty of fluids helps minimize heat loss and early fatigue. Cool water is the best choice, while drinks high in salts and minerals and low in sugar are also good.

* Since many skiing injuries occur when skiers are tired, it is important to rest when you feel fatigued. Don't try to do too much. Know your appropriate skill level and stay within your limitations, especially when skiing in groups.

Tips for safe snowboarding, the fastest-growing winter sport

* Since more than half of all snowboarding injuries occur in beginners, it's a good idea to take a few lessons from a qualified instructor at a ski resort. For first-time snowboarders learning balance techniques, using poles may be helpful.

* The most common injury in snowboarders is the wrist fracture occurring in outreached hands breaking falls. Instructors can teach safer ways to fall, and wearing wrist pads can help cushion falls.

* In addition to wrist pads, other protective equipment should be worn to help prevent injury, including knee pads, helmets and layered clothing.

* Because snowboarders and downhill skiers share the slopes, collisions often occur. Keep an eye out for those around you.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 9

Leave a Reply