HealthView column: Injury prevention for winter warriors
The 2018-19 snowpack is off to a good start. The snow shovels are out, skis and snowboards are tuned, and we’re plenty busy at the Glenwood Orthopaedic Center.
There are certain injuries during certain parts of the year that we see quite a bit, and the start of this winter season has been no different.
As an orthopaedic hand and microvascular surgeon, I tend to see a lot of skiers and snowboarders this time of year, although for different reasons.
A common ski injury I see is skier’s thumb. There is a ligament in the thumb, called the ulnar collateral ligament, that tears as a result of injuring yourself while holding a ski pole. The ligament itself is located on the inner aspect of the thumb’s first knuckle, and is responsible for the stability of the thumb. Snowboarders tend to suffer more from broken wrists from falling back on their outstretched hands. I also see broken legs in both skiers and snowboarders either from self-injury or from others crashing into them on the slopes.
I also see injuries this time of year from falls on black ice or from shoveling.
It’s impossible to prevent the unforeseen events that lead to unintentional injuries, but some tips that I offer to my patients for staying injury-free during the winter months include:
Getting or staying in shape
We live in an active community with many opportunities for exercise, and there is much you can do in your own home. Aerobic exercise is important for skiers and snowboarders, in addition to lower extremity exercises, such as squats, squat jumps, wall squats (sitting up against a wall with your legs bent like a chair), and lunges. Also strengthening your core muscles with movements such as those found in pilates helps to maintain balance.
I encourage my patients to warm up rather than stretch, as stretching a cold muscle or tendon has the potential for injury itself. When you warm up a muscle, meaning literally get it warm in temperature, it has less chance of being injured. Walk around a little bit and get your blood flowing through your muscles prior to hitting the slopes or shoveling the driveway.
Walking on the balls of your feet
When I see patients who have fallen on ice, they tend to fall backward on their heel with their hands outstretched. Try to walk on the balls of your feet (while still maintaining balance) when on ice so there is less of a chance of you falling backward.
Using a smaller shovel
If you’re lifting huge heaps of snow off the driveway, try using a smaller shovel that is creating less of a strain on your back muscles. If it starts to strain, you need to back off the intensity, especially in wet, heavy snow. Go slow at first, then once you’ve warmed up you can move more quickly. Going hard right off the bat is where I see most people injure themselves.
Act like it’s broken
If you do happen to take a tumble, treat the injury as if something is actually broken and seek medical attention if necessary. Sometimes broken bones can take a couple of weeks to show up on an X-ray. If it still hurts, come in and reevaluate it. Also, just because it moves, doesn’t mean it’s not broken. Tendons and joints are what move our bones, so you can still move those with a broken bone.
Michael Grillot, MD, is an orthopaedic hand and microvascular surgeon at the Glenwood Orthopaedic Center at Valley View Hospital.