For many children, winter is an exciting time to get outdoors and go ice skating, skiing, or even sledding. However, winter sports and recreational activities can also expose children to potential safety hazards.
According to Children’s National Health System’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialist Megan Young, MD, sprains and fractures of the ankle and wrist are the most common injuries related to winter sports. In fact, last winter Children’s National treated 99 children with ankle and/or wrist fractures.
It can be difficult to gauge the severity of an extremity injury, but here are the differentiating signs of a minor injury such as a sprain or strain and a more severe fracture:
|Minor Injury||Severe Fracture|
|Continued use of the injured limb||Weakness or decreased use of the injured limb|
|Pain improvement or pain management with over-the-counter medicines||Uncontrollable pain despite over-the-counter medicines or worsening pain|
|Minimal or no swelling||Swelling|
|No deformity of the limb||Obvious deformity|
| ||Numbness or tingling sensations|
“We’re not discouraging kids from getting outside, but just to be mindful and safe,” Dr. Young said.
Despite the risk for injury, Dr. Young said physical activity is important for the overall health of children and the strength of their bones. Children tend to be less active during the winter months when they are confined to the indoors, which also means less exposure to sunlight and vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone health and Dr. Young emphasized that children with low levels can be at risk for fracture.
Tips to Keep Children Safe and Injury-Free for Any Winter Sport
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these valuable tips to keep children safe and warm when participating in winter activities:
- Supervise children while sledding
- Keep young children separated from older children on a sled
- Teach children to sled feet first or sitting up, instead of lying down head-first
- Consider having your child wear a helmet while sledding
- Use steerable sleds, not snow disks or inner tubes
- Make sure sleds are structurally sound and free of sharp edges and splinters
- Avoid sledding in crowded areas or on slopes with obstructions like trees or fences
- Avoid slopes covered in ice rather than snow, or steep slopes
Snow Skiing and Snowboarding
- Only allow children to skate on approved surfaces
- Never let children skate alone
- Teach children to skate in the same direction as the crowd and avoid darting across the ice
- Do not allow children to chew gum or eat candy while skating
- Consider having your child wear a helmet while skating
- Children should be taught by a qualified instructor in a program designed for children
- Young children should always be supervised by an adult and older children’s need for adult supervision depends on their maturity and skill level, but should always at least be accompanied by a friend
- Require children to wear a helmet and make sure the equipment fits the child appropriately
- Ensure slopes fit the ability and experience of the child and avoid crowded slopes
- Avoid taking children down slopes with trees and other obstacles
Additionally, our Sports Medicine Pediatrician Nailah Coleman, MD
, recommends that parents watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia when children are outside in the cold for long hours. Dr. Coleman also advises that parents keep sun protection in mind. The sun can reflect off of snow and children could get a sunburn if their skin is not covered or sunscreen is not used.Think Skill Level Instead of Age
Furthermore, Dr. Young noted that it’s difficult to put an age limit on winter sports and activities and recommended that parents keep their child’s skill levels in mind when choosing a winter activity.
“Choose a winter sport or level of skiing based on the skill set of the child,” Dr. Young said. Helpful links:Chillin’ With Winter Safety