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5 most common winter sports injuries

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

With winter comes a whole host of fun activities, from skiing and snowboarding to sledding and ice skating. But along with all the fun, there's also the potential for injury. Here are five of the most common winter sports injuries, how to prevent them, and what to do if you find yourself dealing with one.

1. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occur when the ACL, one of the main stabilizing ligaments of the knee, is stretched beyond its normal limits. This often occurs due to a sudden change in direction or an impact such as a tackle in sports. Other activities that can lead to ACL injuries include jumping and landing awkwardly, contact with another player in sport, and falling on an outstretched hand. The injury may cause pain, instability and swelling around the joint and require immediate medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears a major injury for athletes, but fortunately physical therapy can help patients to make a full recovery. Deciding on a physical therapy program should always be undertaken with the help of a professional physical therapist who is qualified and experienced in ACL rehabilitation and injury prevention. Physical therapists are well versed in individualized rehabilitation protocols designed to recover muscle strength and flexibility, reduce pain, restore stability to the knee, improve physical activities and help individuals return to their favorite sports as quickly and safely as possible.

Tips to avoid ACL injuries

  • Always warm up and stretch before doing your sport.

  • Strengthen the muscles around the knee and hip joint to improve stability and balance.

  • Practice good form when participating in activities such as running, jumping, or cutting.

  • Know when you are tired. The most common thing we hear in the clinic is "I was just going to hit one more run but I was pretty tired from a long day of skiing.

2. Meniscus tears

Meniscus tears are a common knee injury that typically occur due to sudden twisting of the knee while bearing weight. This causes a tear in the cartilage, which provides cushioning and shock absorption to protect the knee joint. Common symptoms include swelling, stiffness, pain and reduced range of motion in the affected leg. Depending on the type of tear, treatment may vary. We always recommend physical therapy as the first step. While some meniscus injuries require surgery, not all do. We now have good research showing that outcomes with physical therapy are comparable and sometimes even better than surgery.

Most physical activities can lead to meniscus tears, from playing sports like soccer and basketball to digging in the garden. While these minor tears might seem harmless, they should not be ignored. That's why it is important to pay attention to your body and take care of the injuries you sustain. Seeing a physical therapist after sustaining a meniscus tear or injury can go a long way towards providing proper treatment and helping facilitate recovery. Physical therapists can diagnose the injury, provide appropriate physical exercises to strengthen knee muscles, and help reduce pain and heal the injured tissue. So don’t let a meniscus tear keep you off the field! Seeking professional physical therapy is essential for getting back on track in no time.

Tips To Avoid Meniscus Tears

  • Make sure you have the proper shoes for the activity you are engaging in. Slip and falls on ice cause many meniscus injuries.

  • Strengthen your leg muscles and core muscles with exercises that involve balance and stability.

  • Try not to twist your knee too much with your foot locked in your ski or snowboard boot. Try and turn as much as possible from the hips to avoid excessive knee stress.

  • Warm up before physical activity and make sure to stretch throughout to maintain flexibility.

3. Rotator cuff tears

The rotator cuff is an intricate system of tendons and muscles that work together to keep the shoulder stable while providing mobility. One common injury of this area is a rotator cuff tear, which when left untreated can result in permanent damage. Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear may include weakness, pain, or aching in the shoulder, particularly with certain movements.

Rotator cuff injuries happen to skiers when they fall on the arm or shoulder. Excessive force from the fall can cause the shoulder to strain.

If you are doing winter sports it is best to take preventative measures to avoid such injury by regularly doing exercises to help strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint as well as stretching and improving proper form during activities that can put a strain on the area. Fortunately, if you do experience any of these symptoms seeking physical therapy sooner rather than later is key so that you can return to normal activity without worrying about any long-term damage!

Tips to avoid Rotator Cuff Tears

  • Strengthen your rotator cuff muscles to improve stability and range of motion.

  • Stretch the shoulder regularly to maintain flexibility.

  • Perform exercises that involve shoulder rotation for muscle strengthening.

  • Avoid putting unnecessary stress on your shoulder joint by using proper posture and technique when performing activities.

4. Ankle sprains

Ankle sprains are injuries to the ligaments around the ankle. An ankle sprain happens when these ligaments stretch beyond their normal range of motion or tear, usually due to physical activity. Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries among winter sport athletes, due to the uneven and slippery terrain associated with snow sports. Unexpected twisting or turning can cause a ligament to stretch or tear, leading to pain and instability in the affected ankle. Skiing, snowboarding and ice skating are especially prone to ankle injuries, as well as falls caused by slipping on icy surfaces.

Symptoms include pain, swelling, and difficulty walking. If left untreated, an ankle sprain can lead to chronic instability. Fortunately physical therapy is a great treatment for ankle sprains! Physical therapy strengthens and stretches the muscles around the ankle joint, making it less prone to future sprains and allowing for a full recovery. With physical therapy you can get back on your feet in no time!

Tips to avoid Ankle Sprains

  • Stretch your ankles regularly and keep them flexible.

  • Where ankle braces if you are prone to ankle sprains and gradually wean out of them as able.

  • Work on balance training on hard and soft surfaces to improve strength of the muscles of the ankle.

  • When exercising, gradually increase the intensity over time and rest between sets.

5. Shin splints

Shin splints are a common complaint among athletes or those who exercise heavily. They take the form of pain or soreness along the front and inner part of the shinbone and can be extremely uncomfortable. While there are a variety of treatments for shin splints available, physical therapy is often the preferred option. A physical therapist can assess the root cause and create an individualized treatment plan, implementing stretching and strengthening exercises to help lessen the pain associated with shin splints. Additionally, they may employ non-invasive therapies such as massage or cupping to help reduce any inflammation present in the tissue.

Tips to avoid Shin Splints

  • Stretch your calf muscles regularly to maintain flexibility.

  • Strengthen the muscles that support your ankles and feet with exercises like banded side steps, calf raises, and ankle dorsiflexion.

  • Wear supportive shoes that fit properly.

  • Increase your intensity gradually when exercising to give your muscles time to adjust.

  • Take breaks during physical activity or when feeling tired or sore.

Taking care of our bodies by staying active and eating right is essential for healthy and happy living. Unfortunately, sometimes injuries happen despite our best efforts. Anterior cruciate ligament tears, meniscus tears, rotator cuff tears, ankle sprains, and shin splints are just some of the most common recurring sports injuries that have been discussed in this blog post. Key takeaway? If partake in physical activities or work out regularly--even if it's for leisure!--it is important to be cognizant of your body and watch out for certain signs like swelling or difficulty bearing weight. Finally, always be sure to listen to your doctor's instructions for any injury or rehabilitation process; stay proactive in managing your health!

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