Winter sports injuries: how physiotherapy can help you recover

The first snow has fallen for this year, so many of us will be getting skis and snowboards ready for the slopes, polishing up the family sleds, or sharpening our ice hockey skates for another season.

As a result, our hospitals will see a rapid increase in injuries from falls, wipeouts or slips. Some will result in hospitization, but nearly all will result in bruising and muscle strain. That’s a lot of people who need to recover their muscle strength, balance, confidence and mobility – and that’s where physiotherapy can really help.

Common winter sports injuries physiotherapists see every winter

Winter sports increase the risk of certain injuries, including:

  • Anterior and Posterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL/PCL) Injuries
  • Concussion and head injuries
  • Knee strains and meniscus injuries
  • Shoulder dislocations and/or rotator cuff injuries

One of the most common injuries from a fall onto ice or hard snow is a dislocated shoulder. Shoulders are very mobile joints, so they can slip out of placement where other joints wouldn’t. A dislocated shoulder can also result in associated damage to upper body ligaments and muscles.

Skiers are at the greatest risk of dislocated shoulders, closely followed by ice hockey players. It’s painful and unless treated, can lead to a ‘frozen’ shoulder. Elbows can also dislocate if you try to break your fall using your arms.

Post treatment rehabilitation for a dislocated shoulder

Once your shoulder has been restored to its normal position by medical staff, you’ll need to work to strengthen your shoulder and be able to restore full movement without pain. That’s when you should come to see us here at Active Care Physiotherapy. As professional physiotherapists, we will work with you to help reduce the initial stiffness and suggest movements to relieve some of the pain. We will also advice which arm and shoulder positions to avoid during your early stages of recovery!

We’ll work with you towards three main goals:

  • increase the range of movement in your shoulder
  • increase your muscle strength, especially in your rotator cuff
  • restore the balance of muscles in you shoulder area

With all physiotherapy treatment plans, you are an active participant in your own recovery. In between visits to our clinic is the most important time for recovery, as this is when you perform your exercises at home. We might recommend doing these in short sessions of between 5 and 10 minutes, four times day, so you build a habit of exercising without over-doing it!

Other winter sports injuries requiring physiotherapy

Skiers in particular are also prone to knee sprains, the number one skiing injury. The number two injury is skier’s thumb, a torn ligament in the thumb. It may sound minor but it can be surprising debilitating. Again, we can help with treatments and exercise plans to help you restore movement to this important ligament.

Ways to prevent winter sports injuries

First, start to exercise before you hit the slopes. Build up your muscle strength if you are out of condition or have not exercised during the summer months, focusing on building leg and core strength.

Warm up

Warming up your muscles before heading down the slopes or onto the ice is very important. Cold muscles are much more prone to injury. So, make it part of the whole family’s sports routine to start any winter sports with a comprehensive warmup routine. This should include:

  • Stretches for your arms, legs and back
  • Twisting your upper body
  • Circling your arms
  • Exercises to energise leg muscles such as squats and running on the spot
  • Wrist and ankle rotations

It’s important you do these exercises once in your gear, and then again once you’re at the top of the mountain or slopes. Nothing cools muscles down faster than a wait in line for a ski lift followed by a 10 minute shiver on a cold metal chair lift!

Wear the right gear

Winter sports clothing needs to keep you warm but also mustn’t restrict your movements. Choose sportswear specific to your chosen activity, and layer up underneath with thin, insulating layers.

Always wear a helmet

Yes, even on a sled in the back yard. Ian Pike of the Community Against Preventable Injuries says that many people simply think it won’t happen to them, it’ll happen to “the other guy”, so don’t wear a helmet. Luckily, attitudes are changing, and more families now all wear helmets f- and are discovering just how warm they are too!

In a travel article, Dr. David Evans, medical director for Trauma Services BC explains:

“Many of these (head) injuries are serious and require long recoveries. Some result in permanent disability. Fortunately, most are preventable – often simply by wearing a helmet, and avoiding excessive speed or reckless behaviour.”

Avoid alcohol

Talking of reckless behaviour, don’t drink alcohol before skiing. Just one alcoholic drink can affect your performance and your judgment, making it more likely that you will over-estimate your abilities and as a result, fall and injure yourself. You will also be less aware of your surroundings, and perhaps less conscious of changes in the weather conditions. And you might be tempted into “one last run” when you’re physically tired and cooling down. So, save the alcohol for the après ski.

Learn to fall

As a specialist spine and medical centre advises, learning to fall can help prevent injury.

“Our body’s impulse to self-correct during a fall can lead to muscle strains. When a fall can’t be prevented, attempt to land on your bottom or your side and roll. Do not fight the fall.”

Physiotherapy services for winter sports injuries

Every year we help patients with winter sports injuries to recover, restore movement and get back to fun in the snow with their families. Call us if we can help you too.