Most common winter sports injuries and when to seek help from an orthopaedic consultant

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

With the winter sports season upon us, many of you will be heading to the slopes or ice-skating rinks to embrace these exhilarating exercises. As fun as winter sports are, the biting cold, icy and slippery conditions, heavy equipment, busy resorts, and speed when participating can lead to injury.

In this article, we explore the most common winter sports injuries and what to do when accidents happen.


Which winter sports have the most injuries?

Many winter sports involve a certain level of risk and this can bring injuries.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2022, there were an estimated 124,700 winter sports-related injuries treated in emergency rooms nationwide.1 Of all injuries:

·       53% occurred during snow skiing and snowboarding,

·       17% during ice hockey,

·       16% while ice skating,

·       10% while using toboggans, sledges, and snow discs,

·       and 4% while using snowmobiles.


Is skiing or snowboarding more dangerous?

Research by Professor Jasper Shealy from the Rochester Institute of Technology for the National Ski Areas Association in the US says that snowboarders are between 50% and 70% more likely to get injured, but around a third less likely to be killed on the slopes than skiers.2

It is thought that many snowboard injuries happen when the rider falls and the edge of their snowboard drags on the snow and acts like a brake which can cause fractures. Fewer injuries in skiing may be due to advances in safety-releasing equipment.

Most skiing deaths were "due to collisions with fixed objects, where somebody is going at a relatively high speed". Skiers often race and for newbies it’s easy to get out of control, whereas snowboarders take longer to learn how to go fast and are more focused on manoeuvres at a slower pace.


Types of common winter sports injuries

Common winter sports injuries include sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures.


Strains, sprains and ligament injuries

In cold conditions, muscles and connective tissue have less elasticity making them more prone to injury which can also be more severe. Knee, shoulder, hand, wrist, and spine ligaments and muscles are the more commonly injured soft tissues from winter sports falls.


Bone fractures and dislocations

Significant impact such as a collision or fall with other winter sport participants, trees or rink barriers can cause bone fractures and dislocations in your shoulder, hand and wrist, hip, knee, lower leg and ankle.


Head injuries

Head injuries such as whiplash and concussion declined by 50% between 1999 and 2011. This is attributed to the increase in helmets being worn on the slopes.2


What is the most common winter sports injury?

Knee injuries are the most common injury across winter sports.


Knee injuries

The most common knee injury is a tear of your Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL), the knee stabilising ligament on the inside of your knee. The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and meniscus cartilage in your knee joint are also frequently torn.


Other common winter sports injuries

Other common winter sports injuries include ‘Snowboarder’s Ankle’ (talus bone fracture), dislocated shoulder and torn rotator cuff, wrist sprains and finger fractures, ‘Skiers’ Thumb’ (torn thumb ligament), spinal injuries including a fractured tail bone, and head and face injuries such as concussion.


When to see an orthopaedic surgeon after a winter sports injury

Often home treatments such as the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) are effective in reducing pain and swelling for winter sports injuries. However, medical assistance may be required for more serious injuries.

We recommend you see an orthopaedic surgeon

-          Immediately after injury if you experience any symptoms including:

·       intense or persistent pain

·       significant swelling

·       visible deformity

·       feeling drowsy and confused

·       inability to bear weight

·       numbness and tingling

·       restricted movement of your joint, arm or leg.

These symptoms can indicate an acute injury such as a sprain, strain, fracture, dislocation, or torn cartilage. You’ll likely need medical assistance for these injuries. You should first contact the resort or your local emergency services who will refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon if required.

-          Later when back home or if the pain persists

Winter sport-injured patients often choose to seek full treatment when they get home. Usually, it’s possible to travel with an injury, unless it is a broken bone which needs stabilising before travelling.

Some patients don’t realise the full impact of an injury until they arrive home or sometime afterwards when the pain persists or worsens.

If your injury happened abroad, once back in the UK, you may find it easier to access the healthcare you require and get a full diagnosis and treatment.

-          To treat overuse injuries if you partake in winter sports a lot including:

·       tendon inflammation (tendonitis)

·       jumper’s knee

·       hip strains

·       fasciitis

·       shin splints and stress fractures.

These injuries can cause significant pain that worsens and affects your daily life, as well as swelling, popping or grinding in the joints, and causing weakness.

-          To check out a winter sports injury

If you have a niggling injury that you sustained when participating in a winter sport, it’s best to get it checked out sooner rather than later. It may get worse over time. Seeing an orthopaedic surgeon early could be the difference between having a simple ligament repair and needing a ligament reconstruction.


Ramsay’s orthopaedic services

Ramsay’s orthopaedic surgeons are well-practised in diagnosing and treating winter sports injuries. Patients come to them to get relief from their pain and to return to being active and enjoying their favourite winter sports again as quickly as possible.

Following a winter sports injury, once home or if pain persists, you can rapidly arrange a diagnosis at your local Ramsay hospital. We have experts including radiologists, orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and physiotherapists. They use our latest specialist equipment to identify a full range of orthopaedic conditions and deliver the best treatment plan to help a swift recovery.

We have consultant orthopaedic surgeons who specialise in all areas of the musculoskeletal system, including hip, knee, shoulder elbow, spine, hand and wrist, and foot and ankle.

Most of the time, conservative treatments are recommended, such as medication and physiotherapy. Only if these do not work or are not appropriate for your injury will our skilled orthopaedic surgeons carefully perform surgery to treat your injury and relieve your pain.

If you are concerned about a winter sports injury, be it a new injury or pain or an ongoing issue which is impacting your daily life, contact us today.





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