As winter gives way to spring, the ski season in Colorado remains in full swing, however, doctors recommend taking extra precautions on the slopes to avoid common ski and snowboarding injuries they treat patients for this time each year.
Duane Pedersen, physical therapist with Rocky Mountain Physical Therapy, which has offices in Windsor and Johnstown, said he sees an increase in ski and snowboard injuries in the spring months. He said warmer temperatures often lead to slushier conditions at the base of the mountain, which can surprise skiers and snowboarders, who are used to the firm snow higher on the mountain.
“With spring skiing, you start to see more injuries,” Pedersen said. “The wet snow below can slow them down and cause them to fall. The other thing is making sure if you haven’t been up skiing recently is to take rest breaks, get water or stop for lunch. Injuries tend to happen at the end of the day, when people are more fatigued.”
He said the most common injuries he sees from people coming from the slopes are simple strains and sprains. For skiers, he said, injuries tend to occur in knees, hips and lower back, while snowboarders are more prone to wrist and shoulder strains.
“With snowboarding, you tend to see more wrist strains than anything else, particular with newer snowboards who fall down more,” Pedersen said.
He also recommended that skiers cutting through the trees undo the pole strap from around their wrist, so if they catch the pole on a limb it won’t wrench the arm back and hurt their shoulder or wrist.
“If you have a suspected injury, you should get it checked out right away,” Pedersen said. “The quicker it gets looked at, the quicker the recovery.”
With minor aches and sprains, University of Colorado Health orthopedic surgeon Mark Grossnickle recommends icing and elevating the area, and taking anti-inflammatory medications.
“Those are appropriate initial treatments people can start immediately, and within a day or two they usually settle down,” Grossnickle said. “Obviously if your knee gets swollen up like watermelon, you want to get in to see someone as soon as you can.”
More serious injuries like ligament tears will often be treated at the base of the mountain and then the person will be sent home to follow up with their doctor or a specialist, Pedersen said. Depending on the severity of the injury, he said doctors may recommend physical therapy or surgery.
Serious ski injuries can include strains and tears to knee ligaments like the medial collateral ligament or anterior cruciate ligament, which is usually caused by a twisting injury to the knee, Grossnickle said.
Both medical professionals said a large part of avoiding ski and snowboard injuries is proper conditioning and equipment.
“The best preventive medicine is doing proper conditioning ahead of time so your body is ready to handle it,” Grossnickle said. “If you don’t do any activity for six months and then try to go out and ski for eight hours, your body won’t be ready for it.”
He said local health clubs often offer pre-ski season exercise programs to get skiers and snowboarders into shape in time for the start of the ski season.
“That kind of getting in shape ahead of time is a big step to prevent injury on the slope,” he said.