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Skiing and snowboarding is are fun and exciting sports, but as with any sport, it can put the participant at risk of injury, from minor injuries to fatalities. In general, skiing has a fairly good safety record and for most of us who enjoy it, it’s worth the risk.

The overall rate of injuries over the last four decades has dropped by 50%, and broken legs have decreased by 95% since the early 1970s. Here is a look at the most common injuries and the best way to avoid them.

Skier’s thumb

Skier’s thumb is the most common upper extremity injury, it’s actually a UCL injury that occurs to the stabilizing ligaments on the sides of the joints, and it’s the the inside or ulnar collateral ligament that is most commonly injured. It typically happens when a skier falls and does not release the ski pole from their hand, the pole then places a bending stress to the thumb.

If you experience pain in your thumb after a fall skiing, you might need to see a Hand Surgeon to determine if you have a partial or complete tear in the ligament. A partial tear can be treated with a splint, while a complete tear will require surgery.

This risk of this injury can be reduced by letting go of your ski poles as soon as you fall. Also, using ski poles without saber handles or platforms can decrease your risk.

Knee injuries

Knee injuries account for about 40% of all skiing injuries. Twisting the knee while skiing can lead to an MCL sprain or torn ligament, the most common of all knee injuries. It usually occurs in the snow plow position and results from excessive force applied to the knee joint from a fall , the s kis crossing, or the stance widening while in the snow plow position.

An MCL sprain will usually require a splint and rest to cover until the pain and swelling have subsided, but more series tears can require surgery.

An important prevention tool is to condition your body in preparation for skiing by strengthening your quads through a workout routine at least six weeks prior to hitting the slopes. Equally important is correct binding maintenance and settings. Avoid a snow plow stance that is too wide, and fall instead of resisting.

Head injuries

The most important thing you can do to prevent head injury, which can even lead to one of 40 fatalities averaged per year for skiers, is to wear a helmet. Though helmet use has been increasing, they’re still only worn by 40% of skiers. They reduce the number of injuries from 30-50%, though they have not reduced fatalities.

Fatalities usually occur because a skier is going at speeds far to fast for the helmet to cushion at impact. They’re designed to protect up to about 12 mph and some travel at two to three times that speed.

Reduce your risk of head injury or even death, by wearing a helmet, and keeping your speed down. Also, practice common courtesy on the slopes to avoid a collision. Although this only accounts for 5% of injuries, you can reduce decrease your chance by staying in control, stop in a safe place for you and others and when starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield, and by following sign directions.

By following this advice, I’ve fortunately managed to avoid ski injuries during my many years on the slopes, making it a much more enjoyable adventure.