Preventing Injury During Winter Sports

Winter is quickly approaching, and that means the mountain will soon be open for all its different winter activities. Will you be spending time out in the cold? Whether you are a skier, boarder, snowshoer, or just like to play, here are a few tips to help keep you safe during the cold weather.

First and foremost, make sure you have proper gear. Is your jacket the right size? Do your boots allow for warm socks? What about gloves? Staying warm and dry is key when the weather is nasty. The risk of hypothermia and frostbite are greater when your clothes don’t fit properly because you can more easily get wet and cold. Our bodies want to maintain a certain temperature, but cold, wet clothes create a path for our heat to be lost. The laws of physics are followed and since water molecules have a higher heat capacity than air, our warm body temperatures allow heat to be transferred to the wet clothing more quickly than just being in the cold.

Second, keep consuming fluids because we lose most of our heat by sweating and breathing. It can be hard to remember to drink water in the winter because it is cold, but it is very important to stay hydrated. Consider drinking water that is closer to room temperature, rather than ice cold. Or, perhaps increase the amount of tea or black coffee you consume. If you are considering adding Bailey’s or Kahlua to your coffee or hot cocoa, you might want to think again: alcohol causes your blood vessels to dilate (get bigger), which allows your body to lose heat more quickly. Don’t allow your body another way to get chilled.

Third, try your best to stay warm in the first place! Proper nutrition and staying active can all keep you protected against the cold. Your body needs good food so it can break it down into energy that your muscles can use. Your muscles create heat when they are working: did you know shivering is a way for your body to produce heat when it gets chilled? Keep those muscles moving, and consider a warm up and cool down from your winter activity. Jog around the lodge before you put on your jacket and go outside so you are one step ahead of the weather. Take the stairs instead of the elevator once you are wearing your cold weather gear to get your body used to the extra coverage and get your heart pumping a little faster.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of safety precautions. These include stretching before you go outside! Once you are layered and warm, go through some dynamic motions to prepare your muscles and joints: arm and wrist circles in both directions for your upper body, roll your neck in all directions, touch your toes and bend side-to-side, twist from your hips to prepare your back, and do some squats and/or lunges to get the big muscles of your lower body ready to work. You can even do jumping jacks and some big, dramatic skipping to get all of your muscles working together. It is just as important to do these movements after you play; we need to let our muscles and joints moving in proper directions before we just let them rest. And don’t forget a helmet: even a mild concussion is a very serious injury.

If you get a mild case of frostbite (called frostnip) while playing or outside, make sure to frostbiteget the wet clothing off and slowly warm up the area. Put on dry clothes, drink some warm water, and avoid massaging or rubbing the area because it can cause tissue damage. You can use a warm bath as well, but NO hot water! You must avoid direct contact with heat (heating pads, hot water, fireplaces) because the numbness and tingling associated with frostnip could prevent you from feeling a burn.

For mild cases of hypothermia, the same guidelines apply: remove wet clothing and wear dry clothing (or layer more warm clothing), get warm liquids and good sources of energy into your body, and cuddle up with someone else who is warm to benefit from his/her body heat. Make sure you avoid alcohol, because it makes your body lose heat easier. Also avoid caffeine, because it can dehydrate you, and tobacco, because it can cause your blood vessels to get smaller and increase the risk of frostbite.

Most importantly- get up, get out, and be active! Have fun, and take advantage of the beauty our mountains offer. Don’t forget to come in and see the D’Vida team to take care of those sore muscles, get taped before you play and compete, and get adjustments to keep those joints healthy.

Written by Stephanie Tolonen, D.C.

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