Although the slopes might not be ready just yet, it’s never too early to begin preparing your body for ski season.
Here’s a look at the most common injuries and the best ways to prevent them:
Falls account for 75 to 85 percent of ski injuries, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, and nearly all ski-related head injuries are the result of falling.
The best way not to fall is “making sure you’re in shape,” said Jason Lazor, DO, who specializes in sports medicine for Spectrum Health Medical Group Orthopedics. To do that, start preparing weeks or months before you actually get on the slopes.
“You don’t really want to ski yourself into shape,” Dr. Lazor suggested. “When you’re skiing, you’re putting a lot of forces on the body. …The body can best handle those forces when you’ve done some prepping.”
Dr. Lazor recommends a combination of stretching, cardiovascular training like running, cycling and/or swimming, and resistance training focused on the lower extremities to best prepare for ski season. In terms of weight and resistance training, he suggests focusing on quads, hamstrings, abdomen and pelvic stabilizers.
Strong muscles and flexibility increase stability and muscle control, as well as decrease muscle fatigue, which all help to prevent serious falls.
“The more in-shape you are and the more body control you have, the better you can avoid accidents, and when accidents do happen, the better you can protect yourself,” Dr. Lazor said.
The other key for protecting your head is wearing a properly-fitted helmet. You’ll look great.
Sprains and fractures
Two other common injuries when skiing are sprains and fractures. Collisions with objects and other skiers account for between 11 and 20 percent of ski injuries, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, and are the primary cause of fractures.
Skiing “in control” is the best way to avoid those collisions, says Dr. Lazor. Almost every resort posts a Responsibility Code, which reminds skiers to keep an eye on the skiers in front of them, stop in safe and visible places, always look uphill while stopped, and other basic tips for avoiding collisions and ensuring safety.
It’s also important to know your limits, says Dr. Lazor, and not to ski on trails that are above your ability level.
Thumb and wrist injuries
About 30 to 40 percent of skiing injuries are to the upper extremities, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, and “the most vulnerable joint of the upper body is the thumb.”
Skier’s thumb, which is a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb, happens when skiers fall on an outstretched hand while still gripping their ski poles.
The best way to avoid this injury—which can lead to pain and weakness when grasping objects—is to avoid falling (see above advice). A second helpful tip is to use ski poles with straps rather than fitted grips.
“(Straps) are associated with fewer injuries,” the American College of Sports Medicine reports.
When to see a doctor
“In general, if you’re questioning an injury, go seek out help,” Dr. Lazor advised.
Signs of serious head injuries are people acting outside their normal character, behaving more emotionally than normal, a sudden sensitivity to light and lingering headaches.
Another advantage to working out before winter arrives, Dr. Lazor said, is people who work out can tell the difference between general soreness following physical activity and pain from an injury. He frequently reminds people that the Orthopedic Urgent Care clinic stands at the ready to assist them as they encounter any sort of orthopedic injuries—on or off the slopes.
Dr. Lazor has a simple mantra for those wondering when to see a doctor: “When in doubt, get checked out.”