Safety on the Slopes: Prepping Your Body for Winter Sports

The official start of winter is right around the corner and the kids’ winter break is upon us. What can you do now to keep you and your loved ones safe on the slopes in the months ahead? Dr. Luis Palacio of Renown Health Sports Medicine joins Channel 4 KRNV (NBC) and Channel 11 KRXI (FOX) for Best Medicine Wednesday to share his tips on preventing injuries during the winter sports season and how to prep your body for the mountain.

Winter sports are a definite perk of northern Nevada living, with no shortage of ways to enjoy the snow. But before we strapped on our helmets and strapped down our ski boots, we asked Luis Palacio, MD, of Renown Health Sports Medicine if there’s extra steps we should be taking to prepare. (Hint: Yes, but he’s got us covered.)

How can people prepare their bodies before hitting the snow?

First, it’s important to make sure your body is ready. If you’re already active and work out regularly, plan for two to three weeks for your body to adapt to the physical challenges of winter sports. If you haven’t done much since last snow season, give yourself a minimum of six weeks to gear up. To get yourself ready, start with cardio — running, hiking, biking, elliptical — for 30 minutes at least three times per week. This is important because your maximum heart rate, cardiac output and exercise stamina are suppressed at altitudes above 5,000 feet.

Work to increase your strength — especially in your core and legs. Stronger muscles help stabilize your body and absorb shock from the snow. Squats, wall sits, lunges and core exercises all help. Integrating plyometrics is another good idea, because explosive movements like jumping help your legs prepare for hard landings which can cause injury.

Improving your flexibility is another big one. Being able to pivot, twist and turn helps you navigate the snow more safely. For this, try dynamic stretches like leg and arm swings and torso twists.

What about safety tips for the day they head up the mountain?

Eat a good breakfast, focus on healthy complex carbs and refuel with protein snacks during the day. Of course, you also want to be sure to hydrate before, during and after exercise. Staying hydrated helps reduce muscle fatigue and regulates your body temperature while outside in the cold.

It’s also important to warm up and cool down just as you would with any workout because cold muscles and ligaments are more prone to injury. Try to take it easy the first 15 minutes with a beginner’s run and do the same at the end of the day or go for a brisk walk to cool down and stretch.

Also, make sure you also have the right gear. Dress in wind-and-water-resistant, loose-fitting clothing that wicks away moisture. Always wear a helmet that fits securely. The same goes for goggles and waterproof gloves. Waterproof boots can provide additional ankle support. And don’t forget the sunscreen.

We hear a lot about concussions in the fall — but they can be a danger for winter sports as well. What should people know?

When it comes to preventing concussions, being aware of your surroundings, not following another skier too closely and safety equipment are all important. Of course, even when using helmets, people of all ages can still get concussions, which is why it is important to know the signs and symptoms.

Drowsiness and confusion can be signs of a concussion. Some short-term effects may include headaches, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. Long-term concerns include mood disorders, sleep disturbance and problems with cognitive function/concentration.

Resting, avoiding vigorous activity and reducing your workload is important to ensure a full recovery.

What injuries are the most common in winter sports?

Among downhill skiers, knee, lower leg, shoulder injuries, arm dislocation and thumb sprains are all common. Wrist sprains or fractures and ankle sprains are more common among snowboarders, as they use their arms more frequently than skiers to balance and brace for falls. 

Similarly, recreational ice skaters see wrist sprains and fractures. They also sustain knee injuries and concussions from falling on hard ice. With any winter sport comes risk of spinal injury, which greatly increases when jumping is involved.

Sledding causes its share of accidents too, mostly among children who collide with stationary objects.

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