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Safe on the slopes: 10 tips to prevent winter sports injuries

Winter in the Pacific Northwest is a wonderland for sports enthusiasts, from skiers and boarders to snowshoers and hikers.

It’s also the high season for injuries. Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. are treated for winter sports injuries each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. The most common include sprains and strains, fractures, dislocated shoulders and other joints, and concussions. Knees, wrists and ankles are particularly susceptible.

Fortunately, most winter sports injuries can be prevented with proper planning and preparation, along with some common sense.

Don’t let an injury put a freeze on your alpine adventures. These 10 tips will help you avoid the slippery slope of winter sports injuries.

  1. Dress the part. Layers of light, loose and weather-resistant clothing will offer the best protection. Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics to stay dry and warm.
  2. Warm up. Your body is more vulnerable to injury when muscles, tendons and ligaments are cold. Take 10 minutes to warm up with light exercises or stretches before you hit the slopes or trail.
  3. Get in shape. Winter sports require flexibility, strength and endurance. A strong core and good hip, ankle and foot strength are particularly beneficial.
  4. Know the right way to fall. When you try to brace yourself during a fall, you run the risk of a wrist, shoulder or elbow injury. Take a lesson with an experienced instructor to learn how to fall safely and correctly.
  5. Wear protective gear. Make sure you have the right gear for the right sports, including helmets, goggles, gloves, wrist guards and padding. Before you head out, make sure your equipment is in working order and fits properly.
  6. Know your limits. Your enthusiasm is admirable, but a blue diamond run is probably not the best option if you’re a beginner. Choose trails, slopes and maneuvers that match your skill level. It’s also important to listen to your body. If you get tired, take a break. In most cases, winter sports injuries happen at the end of the day as energy, alertness and daylight begin to wane.
  7. Be aware of your surroundings. You’re not the only one out there having fun. Be mindful of others around you and keep an eye out for rocks, trees or holes.
  8. Stay hydrated. Just like any other sports, your body needs water to perform well – especially if you’re at a higher altitude. Drink plenty of water before, during and after physical activity.
  9. Follow the rules. Always stay on marked ski and snowboard trails and never go out of the boundaries or onto closed trails. A backcountry adventure might be tempting, but it’s not worth the risk of getting hurt, lost, or caught in a storm or avalanche.
  10. Don’t plow through the pain. Bumps and bruises are one thing, but if you have a stress fracture and don’t rest it, it can lead to a big break and put an end to your winter sports season.


Don’t go it alone

If you’re thinking of heading out for some solo time in nature, think again. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a bunny-slope novice, always stay with a buddy or group. If you sustain an injury on your own, you may not be able to get the help you need.


How can I treat a winter sports injury?

If your injury isn’t serious, it’s possible to treat it at home. Start treatment as soon as possible after an injury and continue it for a day or two. Take over-the-counter medication for pain and try the RICE method to reduce swelling and promote healing.

  • Rest: Avoid moving the injured area and keep weight off it.
  • Ice: Ice the area for 20 minutes 4 to 8 times a day. Never apply ice directly to skin.
  • Compression: Wrap the area with an elastic bandage tightly enough to provide support without cutting off blood flow.
  • Elevation: To reduce swelling and bruising, elevate the injury area above heart level 2-3 hours a day


Seek medical care if you:

  • Can’t put any weight on the injured area.
  • Have numbness or loss of function.
  • Experience severe pain.
  • You don’t see any improvement after home care.


Indigo can help you get back in action

When your winter sports adventures take some unexpected twists, turns or bumps, Indigo is here for you. 

We treat most minor illnesses and injuries, including  bruises, fractures, sprains and strains. Simply stop by one of our convenient neighborhood locations or book an appointment online. Every Indigo offers digital X-ray services, and we’ll even send you on your way with a pair of crutches if you need them. 

If you need a higher level of care, we can arrange a referral to a specialist.

If you prefer to get checked out from the comfort of home or from your favorite cozy winter destination, Indigo Virtual Care makes it easy to get the care you need, when and where you need it.

Either way, we’re here from 8 am to 8 pm, every day.


When should you go to the ER for a winter sports injury?

Go to your nearest emergency room if you think you have a joint dislocation or a serious fracture like a broken arm, leg, ankle or ribs. You should also get emergency care if you or a loved has symptoms of a concussion or other head injury, including:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Severe headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness or excessive sleepiness

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