Free Hotline Gives Snowboarders, Skiers Safety Tips

Just in time for the Olympics, experts advise thrill-seekers on avoiding injury

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Snowboarders and downhill skiers hoping to safely emulate moves from this month's winter Olympics can get free, expert advice from a U.S. national hotline being offered this Thursday.

The hotline is sponsored by the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA) Sports and Orthopedics Sections. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time. The toll-free number is 1-877-633-3278, the APTA said.

While snowboarding and downhill skiing share common injury risks, each sport has its own special hazards.

"Two-thirds of snowboard injuries affect the upper extremities, with the most common injuries occurring to the wrist and shoulder," Dean Walker, a physical therapist at Durango Sports Club Physical Therapy in Colorado, said in a prepared statement.

He noted that there's even an injury that's unique to snowboarding. "Snowboarder's fracture" is a fracture of the talus, a bone in the middle of the ankle joint. This injury occurs when a snowboarder's foot is pushed suddenly upward and outward during a fall.

In downhill skiing, most injuries occur to the lower extremities, such as the knee, leg, and ankle, added Debbie Cyphers, a physical therapist at the Methodist Sports Medicine Center in Indianapolis. There's also "skier's thumb," which occurs when the thumb ligament that provides hand stability is damaged.

While skier's thumb is often dismissed as a sprain, it may require surgery if left untreated, Cyphers said.

"Skier's thumb typically occurs when skiers fall on their poles during a fall, or during a 'pole plant,' when the ski pole is stuck in the snow but the skier keeps moving," Cyphers said in a prepared statement.

Doing exercises to strengthen the upper and lower body can help reduce snowboarding and skiing injuries. It's best to do these exercises on a year-round basis, Walker said. If that's not possible, you should try to do at least 12 weeks of conditioning before the start of the season.

"A stronger, more flexible body will tolerate a fall better," Walker said.

"The underlying message is that snowboarding and skiing safety have to entail a lifestyle commitment. Maintaining a proper fitness level is essential and winter athletes need to incorporate it naturally into their fitness routines," he said.

Protective gear and properly fitted equipment also help prevent injuries. A helmet is essential, as head injuries account for most snowboarding and skiing fatalities.

"A well-designed and properly fitting helmet will definitely decrease the likelihood of a head injury because it absorbs and spreads the force of the impact over a larger surface," Walker said.

More information

To learn more about winter sports safety, visit the National Ski Areas Association.

SOURCE: American Physical Therapy Association, news release, Jan. 13, 2006
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