Believe it or not, winter is upon us! Despite the long, beautiful fall we’ve enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest, winter is still coming. At Life’s Work Physical Therapy, our physical therapists treat many winter sports injuries. Let’s spend some time learning how to prevent winter sports injuries before they occur.

Types of Winter Sports Injuries

Skiing and Snowboarding

Winter sports injuries can vary among the different sports. With skiing and snowboarding, physical therapists tend to see anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, concussions, and shoulder dislocations or rotator cuff injuries. Some prevention strategies to reduce snowboarding and ski injuries include always wear a helmet and learn how to fall. When falling, avoid breaking the fall with your hands, especially with the wrists extended. Learn how to fall and roll, landing on larger body surfaces. Winter Sport Injury Prevention Programs are available at Life’s Work Physical Therapy and other physical therapy clinics around the country.

Sledding

With sledding, most injuries occur from running into trees or objects or falling off the sled and hitting your head. Concussions are the most common sledding injuries, along with contusions or broken bones from crashing into objects. You can prevent this snow sport pain by wearing a helmet and being sensible when it comes to speed and sledding location.

Hockey

Hockey is another winter sport with lots of injuries associated with it. Again, concussions rank high on the list, as well as ACL tears and shoulder dislocations. Protective equipment is essential, as is adequate training on skating and checking to avoid dangerous plays and winter sport injury.

If you experience a concussion, seek medical consultation immediately. Early intervention and treatment are essential for concussion recovery. Learn more about concussions.

Strategies to Prevent Winter Sports Injuries

Here are some common strategies to prevent ACL injuries during winter sports:

Get Stronger!

ACL injuries are reduced when you have very powerful hamstrings and gluteals. Both of these muscle groups work in conjunction with your ACL to stabilize the knees when skiing and snowboarding. Your quadriceps must also be strong in order to sustain a controlled squat position.

Improve Core Strength

While your legs get you there, your core holds you together and controls the trunk as you jet down the mountain. Core exercises designed to improve function to the pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominal muscles and deep multifidus muscle are foundational in any physical therapist-prescribed core training program.

Avoid doing that “last run”

You know when the end of the skiing day comes, and you’re exhausted; your legs have had it, but you desperately want to ski one more run. Don’t do it! Research shows that the majority of ACL tears occur on the last ski or snowboard run of the day. When your muscles are too tired, your ACL does most of the work stabilizing your knee and you can tear or sprain it with the high forces associated with skiing and snowboarding.

Here are some strategies to prevent shoulder winter sports injuries:

Get Stronger!

Shoulder injuries are reduced when your rotator cuff, middle and lower trapezius muscles are very strong. These muscle groups stabilize your shoulder girdle and prevent winter sports injuries associated with skiing, snowboarding and hockey.

Improve Core Strength

Sounds familiar? Yep! The core is the key to injury prevention and sports performance. While your legs get you there, your core holds you together and controls the trunk as you jet down the mountain. Core exercises designed to improve function to the pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominal muscles and deep multifidus muscle are foundational in any physical therapist-prescribed core training program.

Build Endurance in your Upper Body

Keeping the upper body and core engaged during winter sports activities is essential. The muscles of the shoulder girdle, core, upper back and lower back must have high endurance and body awareness to guide you safely down the mountain or across the ice. A physical therapist can prescribe a training program focused both on endurance and power.

As always, it is our goal at Life’s Work Physical Therapy to keep you moving safely, doing the things you love for as long as you want to do them! If you are active and want to reduce your risk of a winter sports injury, see a physical therapist. If you live in the Portland, OR area, contact Life’s Work PT to schedule an evaluation with one of our physical therapists, or read our blog about “How to Find a Good PT.”

All my best,

Sandra Stryker, PT, MPT, COMT, FAAOMPT