As a physician and an avid outdoor sports enthusiast, I see the pros and cons of participating in winter sports. Each poses a risk for injury, as factors such as ice, limited visibility due to snow and the effects of the cold come into play. However, they also offer fantastic exercise opportunities that can become beloved hobbies during our long winters.
The trick is to take extra care to prepare, perform the activity properly and respect any injuries you endure, ensuring that you get the proper treatment and recovery. Here are some ways that you can enjoy winter sports in a safe way.
Hockey & Skating
Before hitting the ice, ensure you have the proper equipment. This is vital to your safety. Seek expert advice when purchasing your helmet, skates and other gear. A high-quality, well-fitting helmet can prevent serious head injuries and concussions. The right skates are crucial to form, and in turn help prevent knee injuries which are common in skating sports.
Off-ice strengthening of core and lower body plays an important role, not only for performance, but also injury prevention. Building strong leg and core muscles improve form, and proper form means reduced chance of injury. (See trainer tips from Paul Ewbank, performance specialist at Sports Advantage powered by EXOS, for examples). A hockey or skating-specific warm-up is also crucial. Warm-ups should not be one-size-fits-all. Figure skaters and hockey goalies need increased flexibility to prevent strains and tears. A hockey forward or defenseman requires warm muscles that can endure quick strides, fast stops and sharp turns. And, for the everyday skater, a few slow laps around the rink to get muscles used to skating can be helpful.
Now that you’ve got proper equipment, strong leg and core muscles and have had a good warm-up, it’s time to skate. Remember that form is key, and if fatigue during the game or show prevents good form, it might be time to take a rest. Be cautious of your surroundings –a divot or rouge item on the ice can cause a bad fall. In hockey, keep your head up to defend yourself from other players and dangerous plays. Be a good sport and consider other players’ health as well; make clean plays and avoid questionable checks and hits.
If injury occurs, proper treatment is key. If it’s a minor strain or bruise, ice your injury and modify activity until healed. If a joint injury is more severe, try to wrap it or have an athletic trainer assist, then seek care from my colleagues and I at Altru Advanced Orthopedics. If you endure a fracture or severe trauma, go to the emergency room. You’ll receive treatment from Altru’s emergency team, then follow-up from our orthopedic experts. Seek immediate treatment for any level of head injury. A concussion can be hard to detect, and proper treatment is imperative. Athletes should not resume play if there is any indication that a concussion might be present.
Running outdoors in the winter requires careful preparation. You must be meticulous about your clothing, footwear and hydration. Ensure that you have a hydration plan. Without the hot sun beating down on you, you may not realize your need for fluids. Be proactive and take a few drinks of water every mile or so. Proper footwear is imperative to your safety. Shoes without proper traction can cause slips and falls, resulting in fractures, strains and even head injuries. Even more, if you are worried about slipping, your muscles may be tight and at increased risk for strains. Winter runners should consider spikes for their running shoes.
Warming up before a cold run is so important. Imagine your muscles as a rubber band. When cold, they are prone to tear or strain; when they are warm, they are flexible and ready to move. Jog in place or up and down the stairs for about five minutes in the comfort of your home before you hit the road.
Run cautiously. Choose well-cleared paths and keep your eyes on the road ahead. Also, it’s important to stay loose. If you’ve got the right shoes and the right path, you shouldn’t have to worry about slipping, so don’t tense up. That can also contribute to injury.
If you endure a small strain, sprain or joint pain, use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression & elevation) to heal. If it’s more severe, come see me at Altru Advanced Orthopedics for treatment. If a fall causes a fracture or more severe injury, seek care from the emergency room.
If you are taking your kids sledding, consider their safety first. I encourage that children wear a helmet while sledding to prevent potential head injuries. Accidents can happen, and this is the best way to be prepared. Find a winter sport helmet options through Safe Kids Grand Forks.
Choose a sledding hill or area without immobile objects, such as trees, fences or posts. Test the area yourself first before allowing kids to go down the hill. Practice adult supervision and ensure that the hill and path you are using isn’t over-crowded.
Unfortunately, common sledding injuries can be severe. Seek immediate care through the emergency room for serious injuries such as broken bones. If you suspect a concussion, ensure proper treatment is received as soon as possible. Visit a primary care provider, or, our team at Altru Advanced Orthopedics to ensure proper treatment and recovery.
Many cross-country skiers go it alone, and for longer periods of time. Make sure you prepare to be out in the elements; hypothermia is not to be taken lightly. Be sure to dress in layers, wear warm gloves and bring hand warmers. Bring extra base layers in case they get wet with sweat. Staying dry is imperative.
A dynamic warm-up with fluid stretching and light cardio will help warm-up and stretch-out muscles so you can stride pain-free.
Practice proper strides to avoid strains. Ensure you follow marked paths and avoid areas that could be risky for falls.
Most cross-country skiing injuries are nagging. If you are an avid skier, you may experience hip or knee pain that persists. If that sounds familiar, consider setting up an appointment with me. We will go through the best options for your unique situation that can help you maintain or re-gain your active lifestyle.
Taking these precautions can mean the difference between a long winter recovering from injury, and one out enjoying the great white north we call home. I look forward to seeing you out on the trails, hills and rinks this winter.
William Haug Jr., MD, enjoys getting to know his patients and finding out what is important in their life. If a patient would like to get back to work, or get back to an activity like biking or gardening, Dr. Haug strives to make that happen. He is an active supporter of Special Olympics, ARC Upper Valley and the BUDS (better understanding of Down Syndrome) program. He enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, being in the outdoors and staying active with winter bike racing, endurance races and kayaking.