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November 29, 2004

Preventing Winter Sports Injuries

By Jeffree Itrich

Robert Pedowitz, M.D., Ph.D., is gearing up for the annual stream of winter sports injuries from skiers, snowboarders and other sports enthusiasts. The Chief of Sports Medicine Service for UCSD Healthcare’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery says the barrage happens every year but adds that doesn’t have to be the case. Pedowitz has several suggestions for winter sports enthusiasts to prevent common injuries and avoid a visit to the orthopedist.

“Probably the most important thing people can do to prevent all types of injuries,” he says “is to condition before they participate in activities and do it regularly. That means staying in shape with flexibility and strength and cardiovascular fitness.”

The most common injuries the department regularly sees in the winter are injuries from skiing, snowboarding and basketball, a year-round sport in Southern California.

“Some problems can be avoided by the right conditioning program, with particular focus on strength and flexibility training,” says Pedowitz. “With skiing and basketball, there is another nuance to consider, and that’s technique. Some skiers need time with a good professional who can teach them proper skills to decrease the risk of an out-of-control injury.”

With basketball, Pedowitz says proper jumping and pivoting technique can also decrease the risk of ankle sprains and severe knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears.

“Of course,” he adds, “skiers must also choose the right hill appropriate to their skill level, and ball players should select the right league to play in, because injuries tend to happen when things get out of control.”

Pedowitz advises undergoing a good quadriceps conditioning program in the weeks or months leading up to a ski trip. “It will also make the vacation more fun, because properly conditioned quadriceps will decrease the muscle soreness that is so common on the second or third day of the activity,” he says.

Selection and proper fit of sports equipment for a sport as technical as skiing he says is essential to preventing injury. Pedowitz can’t stress enough how important it is to get advice from a knowledgeable professional, particularly when choosing expensive and complicated equipment.

“Skis, boots, and binding designs have definitely decreased some of the most severe injuries, such as tibia fractures. However, some of these advances are lost when the wrong equipment is selected or when it is fit improperly,” he says
Although it would seem snowboarding injuries would be similar to skiing, Pedowitz says the sport presents very different types of injuries than those seen from skiing accidents.

“Both feet are connected to the snowboard, so there’s much less twisting of the knees and legs since they don’t move independently,” says Pedowitz. “We see fewer severe knee and leg injuries with snowboarding, however wrist fractures and head injuries are more common. Snowboarders commonly fall hard, straight backward. People throw out their arms to stop the fall and fracture the wrist or they are too late and hit their heads on the snow receiving a concussion.”

The physician can’t stress enough the importance of protective equipment while snowboarding. Helmets and wrist guards can help prevent and minimize severe injury.

Finally, Pedowitz advises people to be smart and be careful with their activity selection. Choosing a sport within your abilities and skill level is key to staying injury-free, he says.

“For example, snowboarding has become very popular, even with people in their 30s and 40s, but less so later on because older people become discouraged by the learning curve snowboarding requires. It’s important not to go beyond their capability, because if they do chances are they’re going to get hurt,” he cautions.

For more information on sports injury prevention or to make an appointment with UCSD Healthcare’s Sports Medicine Service in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, call (858) 657-8200.

Media Contact: Jeffree Itrich (619) 543-6163

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