Staying Injury Free for the Whole Ski Season

For Immediate Release

Staying Injury Free for the Whole Ski Season
U.S. Ski & Snowboard team doctor Kevin Plancher on common injuries and treatments to speed recovery

NY, NY and Greenwich, CT, October 2008 “ For the 28+ million Americans who take to the slopes each winter on skis or snowboards, the chill in the air and the first flakes of snow conjure excitement for the winter sports season ahead. Yet, the thrill of the first few runs of the season is often mixed with apprehension, even for the most seasoned winter sports enthusiasts. The fear, of course, is that an early-season injury will relegate them to the lodge for the rest of the winter.

After months off the slopes, the body needs time and practice to readjust to the physical requirements of these sports  even if skiers and boarders have spent months training in advance of the season, explains Kevin Plancher, M.D., a leading NY-area orthopaedist and an official surgeon of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Teams. This is a time when everyone from experts to novices and in between, for different reasons, may be more susceptible to injury. Dr. Plancher notes that, while new skiers and boarders are likely to sustain an injury because of inexperience, the more advanced winter athletes can suffer and injury if they try to do too much too quickly. Many well-trained, experienced skiers and boarders get into trouble early in the season when they expect to jump right back in to the sport at the level at which they left off last year, Dr. Plancher warns.

Preventing Early-Season Injury
Skiing and snowboarding are among the most physically demanding sports, mainly because they place an inordinate amount of stress on the body’s ligaments. These tough, fibrous structures that connect bone structures together to form the joints are responsible for providing much of the body’s flexibility, Dr. Plancher explains. Being flexible is a crucial aspect of downhill skiing or snowboarding, he adds. The most relied-upon ligaments “and the most prone to injury“ in skiing and snowboarding are those of the knees (about 25% of all ski injuries), followed by the hands. Early season injuries most often involve the Medial Collateral Ligament, the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and the Medial Meniscus in the knee, along with the ulnar collateral ligament located at the base of the thumb, Dr. Plancher explains. While knee ligament strains and tears can occur during active skiing and boarding, most injuries to the thumb happen during a fall, when the grip on the ski pole can jam the thumb backwards causing an injury now known as skier’s thumb.

Dr. Plancher recommends these steps that skiers and snowboarders can take during the first few excursions of the season to reduce the risk of early injury.

Get your bearings: Even if you’re skiing or boarding at a resort you’ve been to before, Dr. Plancher always recommends reviewing slope maps, lift systems and resort policies for any changes that may have taken place during the off-season. Know key information, such as what to do if you sustain a mid-run injury, and how to find the nearest first aid stations, he advises. Remember that injured skiiers and boarders on the slopes can pose additional collision hazards to themselves and to others if they are not quickly relocated to a safe area outside of the flow of traffic, Dr. Plancher adds.

Take a lesson: Whether you’re planning to while away the day on the bunny slope or taking on the double-diamond, make a pre-ski lesson the first item on your agenda. A brief 30-minute group or private lesson provides an opportunity for novices to practice in a controlled situation, and allows experts to hone skills that have been unused for more than half the year, Dr. Plancher points out. He encourages skiers to practice falling safely as well, paying attention to the positioning of poles and bindings to reduce risk of ligament strains. What’s more, a lesson will give participants insight into the topography of the resort, the day’s snow and weather conditions, and other variables that can affect safety and enjoyment.

What to Do if you Sustain an Early-Season Injury
The majority of ski- and snowboard-related ligament injuries are not serious, which is good news for those who want to return to the slopes as quickly as possible, Dr. Plancher assures. However, failing to recognize and properly treat minor injuries can cause them to worsen and extend the time needed for recovery. Following are guidelines for assessing and treating an early-season injury to maximize healing and hasten a return to the slopes:

Recognize the injury: It’s tempting to ski or board through an injury, especially early in the season because participants have been waiting for months to return to a sport they love, Dr. Plancher admits. However, recognizing the injury and relieving pressure on the ligaments immediately are critical to reducing its severity and getting skiiers or boarders back onto the slopes as quickly as possible, he advises. Sudden pain after a fall or during a maneuver in which the ligaments are in flex, or a popping sound at the knee followed by acute pain, are signs of ligament injury and should prompt skiers and boarders to seek medical help immediately.

RICE: Most sports enthusiasts are familiar with this term, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Dr. Plancher recommends icing a sore joint in 30-minute intervals for about three hours. If swelling and pain remain the same or worsen during that time, patients should seek medical attention, he advises.

Call an expert: Skiers and snowboarders who want the fastest possible return to the season should have their injury evaluated by an orthopedic sports medicine physician. There are many options “from physical therapy to orthopedic braces and other devices“ that can help speed healing and speed a patient’s return to the slopes, Dr. Plancher advises. In addition, an orthopedic specialist can provide a number of new options that reduce both the invasiveness and the recovery time usually associated with surgery, which could mean a same-season return to the slopes, he concludes.

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