When the weather starts to get that familiar chill and the snow begins to fly, people throughout Wisconsin dust off their skis, skates and snowboards and head outside.
Sometimes, that winter fun can turn into disappointment when injuries occur on the ski hill or skate pond – or even just walking on a slippery sidewalk. Orthopedic experts frequently see injuries to wrists, shoulders, knees, head and elsewhere on the body because of falls during winter activities.
About 200,000 people in 2018 were treated for winter sports-related injuries, most commonly from skiing and snowboarding, says The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. That includes fractures, sprains, and dislocations. Winter sports-related injuries and slips and falls can range from a bad bruise or sprain to something broken or dislocated.
“One of the most common injuries we see with winter sports is to the knee, due to downhill skiing,” said Dr. Nickolas Linkous, Orthopedic Surgeon at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain. “It’s fairly classic to get your ski caught and your leg turns but your body keeps going. Then you possibly have an ACL injury, and it’s very common to have an associated meniscus injury with it.”
Wrist injuries, including sprains and fractures, also are commonly seen in the winter because of falls. Concussions can be common when it comes to ice sports like hockey where there’s the potential for collisions.
Sledding also poses a danger of concussion. Kids should always be supervised when participating in winter activities.
“Sled hills should be free of obstacles and have plenty of space at the bottom to stop,” explained Dr. Linkous. “No one should sled near frozen lakes or ponds because of the danger of thin ice or places where there may be open water.”
Kids should always ride feet-first down hills to help avoid head injuries while enjoying the sledding hill, and helmets are recommended.
Preventing injuries in winter sports
In fact, the correct safety equipment is paramount for kids and adults alike. That might mean helmets, knee and/or elbow pads, or wrist guards. It’s also important to be aware of how your body is holding up after multiple runs down the ski hill.
“You’re much more likely to have an injury when you’re fatigued and tired,” Dr. Linkous said. “Your muscles aren’t really functioning properly to protect you the way that they should. When people come in with an ACL injury from skiing or snowboarding, it’s common to learn they were almost ready to finish and decided to go out for one last run.”
Additionally, cold muscles and tendons are more susceptible to injury. Warming up prior to heading out into the snow can help. And people who plan to spend time outdoors engaging in winter sports are advised not to go alone.
“It is important to always have someone around, or have a way to call for help,” Dr. Linkous said. “Getting injured out in a cold environment can become very serious if you’re on your own.”
Extended periods outdoors can lead to frostbite or hypothermia. Those planning to spend time outside should ensure to protect their extremities with gloves, hats and/or earmuffs, and take occasional breaks out of the cold air to warm up.
Older adults, small children and infants, as well as people with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, are at a higher risk of frostbite because their bodies may not produce heat as well. Some signs of frostbite include cold, prickly skin, numbness, clumsiness from joint or muscle stiffness, or skin that has changed color. In more progressive cases of frostbite, the skin may feel as though it’s warming.
Signs of hypothermia might include shivering, slow or shallow breathing, exhaustion, and slurred speech. Confusion can lead to risk-taking behavior, which can lead to further danger on the ski hill. Hypothermia is a medical emergency.
Slip-and-fall injuries can create injuries that are similar in nature to those sustained during winter sports, and largely affect older people.
“Young people who slip and fall on the ice or wet pavement get away with it, most of the time,” Dr. Linkous said. “Maybe they have some bruising or sprains. Older people who slip and fall on the ice may sustain wrist injuries, very commonly, a shoulder injury such as a rotator cuff injury.”
To help avoid slips and falls during the winter, it’s a good practice to be vigilant about your surroundings and the conditions of each surface you’re walking on, he said.
“It’s easier said than done, especially in retrospect, but you can maintain safe practices around your house,” he explained. “Make sure you’re adequately salting icy surfaces and carefully keeping up with snow removal.”
Wear footwear that provides stability and traction on surfaces that are potentially slippery. Your shoes or boots should provide good support and keep your feet warm and dry. Keeping your center of gravity over your feet and taking smaller steps, shuffling if necessary, can help maintain your stability. It’s also vital to be aware of vehicles and remember before crossing the road that they will need extra time to stop, and may have trouble seeing you if you fall.
Get help at the ThedaCare Orthopedic Walk-In Clinic
The Orthopedic Walk-In Clinic is a great option for people who experience minor to moderate injuries due to falls.
“Often when you’ve hurt yourself out in the cold, you’re not really expected to know the difference in which one might be serious and which one is not,” Dr. Linkous said. “Rather than going to the emergency department, the walk-in clinic is a great opportunity to go in, see a practitioner and get x-rays the same day.”
If there is an injury that needs follow-up care, starting with the Orthopedic Walk-In Clinic is a great way to have a direct line of care to a provider that you may need to see, whether that’s a non-operative sports medicine doctor or a surgeon, Dr. Linkous said.
Patients should choose to visit the emergency department instead if there’s an obvious deformity to a limb, indicated a serious break, or if they have a bad concussion, which might include symptoms of cognitive impairment, like memory issues, vision issues, Dr. Linkous said.
“If a patient is having any kind of numbness or tingling after a bad injury, those are warning signs that they should go to the emergency room rather than a walk-in/urgent care,” he said. ThedaCare Orthopedic Walk-In Care is located at 2400 E. Capitol Drive Appleton, WI 54911. For more information, click here.
Winter Sports Alternatives
For those who may want to stay active but prefer alternatives to winter sports, there are still ways to keep healthy.
The region provides a wide variety of gyms for working out, roller skating, indoor swimming and water parks, youth and adult sports leagues, bowling alleys, mall walking, and family-oriented entertainment venues with physical activities.
People also can consider enjoying slower outdoor winter activities, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, available with groomed trails at many area parks, nature reserves and recreational areas.
“Winter sports are a great way to get through the long winter months in Wisconsin,” Dr. Linkous said. “Taking some care to protect yourself can help you to stay safe while enjoying this time of year.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.