Your Own Winter Olympics
Hit the Slopes, Safely
Feb. 7, 2002 -- The Winter Olympics are just around the corner.
And they may just inspire you to dust off those old skis or hit the sporting
goods store for your very own snowboard. Both sports are great exercise -- they
burn around 400 calories an hour -- as well as terrific ways to get outside in
the fresh air. But watch out!
The slam-bang crashes of these mountain sports -- particularly
when you're a beginner -- are a lot more likely to make your orthopaedist rich
than would, say, a summer full of swimming and cycling. And that's especially
true if you're a forever-young baby boomer who's decided to catch some air with
the grunge crowd. How do you prevent injuries both before you get on the
mountain and while you're speeding down it?
Before we talk about preventing injuries, let's talk about what
injuries you're trying to prevent. Some reports say skiing and snowboarding
have about the same risk of injury -- between four and six injuries for every
thousand visits to the slopes. But other studies, which do their figuring
according to "distance traveled," say that snowboarders get three to
four times more injuries that require hospital treatment than skiers do. In any
case, skiing and snowboarding have different injury patterns: Skiers are more
likely to damage their knees and thumbs, while the most common snowboarding
injuries attack the ankles, wrists, and shoulders.
And skiing's a little more forgiving to beginners than
snowboarding: Some 30% or more of those injured skiing are beginners, while
beginners account for somewhere between 49% and 60% of snowboarding injuries.
That's partly because of snowboarding's novelty and popularity: There are a lot
of beginners out there to get hurt.
Although skiing and snowboarding make for great workouts, you
shouldn't use them to get into shape. If you hit the slopes without having
walked farther than from TV to refrigerator in years, you'd better make sure
your health insurance premiums are paid up. Whether you're a beginner or a pro,
conditioning is key. If you don't work out much, plan your first trip to
the mountain at least a few weeks ahead of time, and get in some cardio and
strength training in the meantime.
"The biggest reason for injury is lack of fitness,"
says Jonathan Chang, MD, a clinical assistant professor of orthopaedics at the
University of Southern California and at Western University, and a member of
the U.S. Olympic Committee's Olympic Sports Medicine Society. "Try to
approach this with some preparation. You'll enjoy it more if you don't get
hurt." In addition to regular cardiovascular exercise -- walking, running,
swimming, biking -- Chang advises would-be skiers and boarders to focus on
strengthening their leg muscles, particularly the quadriceps (on the front of
the thigh), which will take a big beating on the slopes.
Orthopedic surgeon and avid skier Kyle Palmer, MD, offers a
handy guide to strengthening exercises for mountain sports on his ski-health
information Web site. "After you're on the mountain all day, riding your
brakes down the hill, your knees are going to be screaming. The ones who'll be
in real pain are the folks that don't have a lot of quad strength," he