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A winter sports safety guide

Avoid skiing, sledding, snowboarding and ice hockey injuries.

Cold-weather activities like skiing, sledding, snowboarding and ice hockey seem to epitomize wholesome winter fun. It’s true; these activities promote fitness and allow kids to burn off pent-up winter energy. But according to sports medicine specialist Kevin D. Walter, MD, parents are often shocked to learn about the dangers involved.

With rates for winter sports injuries climbing, health experts warn parents to take precautions when their kids participate in winter pastimes like skiing and sledding. Skiing, snowboarding, and sledding injuries lead to 45,000 emergency-room visits each year for children ages 13 and younger.

Why are winter sports so potentially dangerous? “Any time you have kids traveling down slick snow and ice at high speeds, there’s a risk of injury,” says orthopedic surgeon Joe Guettler, MD. Children are more susceptible to falls than adults because their heads are relatively large in proportion to their bodies, and their center of gravity is higher, he says. Young bones have growth plates — areas of fibrous material where new bone is generated — that make them more prone to breaking than adult bones.

To stay safe, kids should wear proper protective gear — especially a well-fitted helmet — and play by the rules of their respective sport. Warming up for 10 to 15 minutes also reduces the likelihood of injury by preparing muscles, tendons, and ligaments for work.

To further protect your children from winter sports injuries, follow these sport-specific strategies:

Skiing

According to Dr. Walter,skiing-related injuries often involve the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

  • Equipment, including skis, boots, and bindings, should be properly fitted.
  • Kids should avoid walking around unnecessarily in ski boots, as this can compromise their snug fit.
  • Be extra attentive when getting on and off the ski lift, a time when many injuries occur.
  • End the day on an easier run to avoid skiing fatigued.

Sledding

Collisions, which can lead to catastrophic head injury, are the biggest injury risk for sledders, says Dr. Guettler.

  • Always choose a sled with a steering mechanism.
  • Never allow sledding in wooded areas or near streets.
  • Don’t allow children to walk across the sledding path.
  • Helmets are a must.

Snowboarding

With snowboarders, upper body injuries are a big concern, particularly wrist fractures, says Dr. Guettler. So are neck and head injuries, including concussions.

  • Wear wrist guards and a protective helmet.
  • Kids shouldn’t attempt tricks or runs that exceed their ability level—particularly late in the day when fatigue sets in.
  • All gear, especially bindings, should be checked regularly.

Ice hockey

Ice hockey is one of the U.S.’s fastest-growing youth sports. Its fast pace can set the stage for injuries to the head, mouth, limbs and groin.

  • Skating proficiency is vital. Young players should be able to confidently skate both forward and backward before suiting up to play.
  • Never let your child play without a protective helmet, hockey-specific shoulder, elbow, knee and shin pads, hockey pants with built-in padding ( “breezers”), gloves, an athletic supporter or cup, and a mouthguard.

Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer.

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