Preventing Extreme Sport Injuries

For many thrill-seekers, extreme sports, such as downhill ski racing, ski jumping, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snow biking and ice climbing, can be fun way to get an adrenaline rush during the long winter months. But these sports are called “x-treme” for a reason – participants may have a high chance of injury.

Recently televised events such as the X Games have led to increased participation in such sports, which can involve risky stunts that include trick jumps and flips at high speeds.

“Kids watch extreme sporting events on television and they think flying through the air on a snowboard looks easy,” says George Russell, M.D., spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). “They do not see all the practice it takes to do that—and they don’t see how often extreme athletes get injured while learning their stunts.”

While it is difficult to track injuries due to extreme sports specifically, the facts do point to increased risk with these activities. According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, snowboarding is the leading cause of winter sports injuries, sending 149,388 people to hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, clinics and other medical settings in 2007. Skiing resulted in 131,454 injuries and snowmobiling caused 34,699.

Safe to the Extreme

As part of its commitment to injury prevention, AAOS advises caution before participating in extreme winter sports and offers the following tips:

  • Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more susceptible to injury. Do some light exercise for at least 3 to 5 minutes, then slowly and gently stretch the muscles to be exercised, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
  • Do not try to imitate stunts seen in televised events. The people in those events – even the X Games, which appear to be less formal than events like the Olympics – are professional athletes with years of training. If you have children who watch these events, make sure that they understand this.
  • Never participate in extreme sports alone. Many extreme sports enthusiasts have a coach or responsible party overseeing any activity. Have a partner who can assist you or go for help if you get injured.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding, and make sure equipment is in good working order and used properly.
  • Take frequent water breaks to prevent dehydration and overheating.
  • Avoid participating in any sport when experiencing pain or exhaustion.
  • For warmth and protection, wear several layers of light, loose and water- and wind-resistant clothing. Layering allows you add and remove clothing to accommodate your body’s constantly changing temperature when outside or in a cold environment such as an indoor ice rink.
  • Wear proper footwear that provides warmth and dryness, as well as ample ankle support.
  • When falling, try to fall on your side or buttocks. Roll over naturally, turning your head in the direction of the roll.
  • Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature to ensure safety.
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