According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, snowboarding accounts for one-quarter of all sports injury-related emergency department visits in the winter. Sledding may seem tame by comparison, but it is also dangerous, causing more than 700,000 injuries a year.
For snowboarding, the most common injuries are broken bones and sprains, often to the wrist and elbow, due to athletes falling on outstretched hands as they try to catch themselves. As for sledding, 30 percent of injuries in this sport are caused by head collisions.
“A lot of winter sports seem to have a person operating on more than their own propulsion,” Children’s National Health System’s sports medicine pediatrician Nailah Coleman, MD, said. “Winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and hockey rely on ice and snow to determine how fast an athlete is going, and this heightened speed is what makes them so dangerous.”
While the winter weather can be unpredictable, Dr. Coleman said there are a few ways to prepare your young athlete and avoid injury.Injury prevention:
- Wear layers
- If you’re going to be sweating, make sure to wear layers that wick away sweat, or include a change of dry clothes
- Follow the rules of the sport
- Have appropriate equipment for the sport
- Make sure equipment is not loose and fits you
- Make sure the arena, slopes, etc., are checked for safety
- Know your limits
- Be sure your child does not do more than he or she is comfortable with, like attempting to snowboard a Black Diamond, when they should stick to the Bunny Hills
Winter sports also offer other challenges besides the heightened risk of injury. While playing outside in the cold for long hours, it’s important to know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Dr. Coleman said before frostbite begins, athletes may experience frostnip. This is when the outer extremities feel cold, but don’t hurt. Once inside in the warmth, this cold feeling goes away in 10 or 15 minutes. Frostbite is much more serious because the tissue is frozen.
- Frozen tissue at extremities, fingers, toes, ears and nose
- Skin appears pale
- Unable to feel in affected area
- Tissue may appear gray or blistered
Dr. Coleman said one way to prevent frostbite is to be wary of shoes that are too small, because you will not have proper blood flow to feet. If you suspect your child has frostbite, it’s important to seek treatment at the emergency department immediately.
Another cold weather risk is hypothermia, which occurs when a child’s temperature falls below normal due to exposure to cold temperatures.
- Feel hands and feet get cold
- More and more coldness all around you
- Slurred speech
- Impaired judgment
- In some cases, people become so disoriented they begin to undress
“If you notice confusion in another person, it’s cold, and you’ve been out for a while, it’s time to call for medical attention,” Dr. Coleman said.
One more tip to keep in mind when enjoying winter sports is sun protection. Just because it’s cold, does not mean you can’t get burned. The sun can actually reflect off of snow, so make sure skin is covered or sunscreen is used.