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Getting Prepared To Take To The
Slopes


by Kelly E. Browne, L.A.T.C.


When the snow starts to fall in New
England that means only one thing for a great number of people here;
skiing! As you prepare to shush those slopes or tackle that cross
country course, there are some things you can do to prevent the most
common injuries that can occur from skiing. Although the equipment
that is used today has come a long way towards injury prevention,
there are still a great deal of injuries that probably could be
prevented with a little forethought and knowledge. There are three
categories of common skiing injuries. Injuries due to the cold
temperatures, those due to overuse or under training, and traumatic
injuries. These all occur in fairly high numbers even at the smaller
ski hills. The first two categories are easily prevented. The
traumatic injuries are less predictable and harder to prevent. In all
cases a little knowledge of first-aid, and consulting emergency
personnel at the ski area will go a long way to ensure a quick
recovery.


Probably the most frustrating category
of injuries are those that occur due to the cold temperatures. It is
very important to make certain that proper clothing is worn at all
times. When skiing at a mountain resort it may be more difficult to
prepare for the temperatures. Quite often it is the wind chill not the
ambient air that poses the problem. Down at the base lodge the wind
may be far less dangerous than when you are sitting immobile as you
ascend the slopes in the chair lift. Most ski areas post the
temperature and wind chill for both their peaks and the base lodge. It
is important to pay attention to these numbers and gear up
accordingly. The most common parts of the body to be affected by the
cold are toes, hands, ears, and nose. When skiing in cold weather
conditions it is imperative that these body parts are well protected
from the cold and wind. Remember that quite often an extra pair of
socks makes the boot fit too tight, cutting off the blood supply to
the toes and predisposing the skier to frostbite. Feet and toes should
be comfortably snug in ski boots, both downhill and cross country.
Fingers should be protected with gloves that are appropriate to the
temperature. A lovely pair of Isotoner’s® may look sharp with
your ski jacket, but they will not keep the cold out like some of the
better ski gloves on the market. Look especially for waterproof
materials for your ski gloves. Hands end up in the snow quite often,
especially if you are a beginner and fall a lot. Once the gloves get
wet, the chances of getting a cold injury to the hands are increased
dramatically. The nose and face are harder to cover and protect.
Scarves and/or ski masks of many designs are easy to find, and will
keep the cold from damaging the delicate skin of the face. Ears can be
covered with hats or any of a myriad of ear warming headbands or
earmuff type protection. The bottom line in cold injury prevention is
use of proper protective gear. If at any time loss of sensation occurs
in a body part, that is the time to head for the lodge. Do not wait
until body parts start turning colors. In any case where a cold injury
is suspected, seek out the medical staff of the ski resort. Proper
warming techniques must be followed for a full recovery.


The second category of skiing injuries
are those that occur due to overuse and/or under training. The
majority of these injuries are muscle strains. The downhill skiing
position can be quite stressful on the quadriceps, (the muscles at the
front of the thigh) and the hamstrings (the muscles of the back of the
thigh). Cross-country skiing can be stressful to all of the muscles of
the legs. The quadriceps and hamstrings are the two groups of muscles
most commonly over stressed by both types of skiing. This is a
familiar fact to those skiers who do not train their bodies in
preparation for the ski season. They are easy to spot in the lodge as
they walk slowly, have difficulty lowering and raising themselves from
their seats, and complain about their aching thighs. Prevention of
this type of injury needs to start weeks before the snow begins to
fall. A good solid strengthening program will prepare the muscles of
the body to handle the stress of skiing or any other activity. Joining
a gym is the easiest way to obtain the equipment and the knowledge
necessary to strengthen those legs for ski season. Many gyms have
programs specific to ski season training, such as the program at
Cedardale directed by the staff of Northeast Rehab Health Network. But
a strength program can be created and performed at home with virtually
no equipment. Consult your physician, or visit a local library to get
information on strength training. The other key ingredient to
prevention of muscle strains, is a proper warm up and stretch of the
muscles prior to the activity. This will prepare the muscles for the
exercise and should help lessen the occurrence of strains. If a muscle
strain does occur, remember that rest is the best remedy. Using ice on
the injured muscle the first 24 to 48 hours is best. After that, heat
and stretching will help to loosen up the tightness and allow the
skier to get back out in the snow. Muscle strains that last for more
than a few days may be more severe and the skier should consult a
physician. Proper training before ski season starts, warming up and
stretching before getting on the skis, and knowing personal limits
will all help to ensure a ski season free from nagging muscle
injuries.


The last category of common ski
injuries are those that occur as a result of falls, spills, and
collisions. These injuries are impossible to predict and can be the
most dangerous. The ski areas all agree that the best way to prevent
traumatic injuries is to remain in control of your body at all times.
This may mean sticking to the slopes that match the ability level of
the skier. This also means keeping an ever watchful eye for fellow
skiers on the slopes. Other skiers can create obstacles to ski around,
and can create chaos if general courtesy and respect are absent. It is
best for all involved if control is maintained, and if stopping is
necessary, it is done only in out of the way places. Despite every
effort to remain under control and out of everyone’s way,
collisions with other skiers, trees, fences, snow drifts, etc., may be
inevitable. Falls and spills that contort the skier’s body can be
just as harmful. It is in these cases that the equipment can dictate
what kind of injury occurs. Bindings that release from the skis will
help to prevent ankle and lower leg injuries. If the bindings do not
release however, lower leg fractures, knee sprains and ankle fractures
and sprains can all occur if the skis go one way and the skier goes
another. Obviously injuries can occur to any part of the body in a
collision situation. In those circumstances it is best to illicit the
help of the emergency personnel at the ski area. These people will be
highly trained in the treatment of injuries, as well as being the most
able to transport an injured skier down the rest of the mountain
safely. In cross country skiing, the occurrence of traumatic injuries
is lessened due to the speed of the activity being dramatically slower
than downhill. However, in the case of falls and spills, many of the
same types of injuries can happen. Cross country ski equipment fits so
that the toes are fixed to the skis and the rest of the foot is free
to move. Again, if the bindings release as the skier falls, this will
prevent many injuries. But, if the binding does not release, a cross
country skier can sprain ankles and knees and the forefoot just as
easily as a downhill skier. The bottom line to preventing traumatic
ski injuries whether downhill or cross country, is control and
courtesy.


So now as the ski season is already
upon us, hopefully all the proper planning and preparation has taken
place. All necessary ski wear is obtained, bodies trained and ready
for the physical stress of skiing, and courtesy and control are
utilized. Even the most prepared skier may inevitably become injured.
But with proper treatment administered by trained personnel, hopefully
the effects of the injury can be minimized. Feel free to contact your
favorite ski area’s medical personnel for advice and education on
the prevention and treatment of skiing injuries. Have fun, don’t over
do it, and treat any injuries that occur promptly and appropriately,
and the ski season is sure to hold much excitement and enjoyment for
all who participate.