Winter Injury Prevention Tips

Written by Adam Hyatt, M.D.

Many of these injuries happen at the end of the day’s activity, when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run before the day’s end. The majority of these injuries can easily be prevented if participants prepare for their sport by keeping in good physical condition, staying alert, and stopping when they are tired or in pain. Fatigue can create poor technique and loss of protective mechanisms.

There are many things you can do to help prevent injury during favorite winter activities. Winter athletes should take extra steps to incorporate specific strategies to prevent injuries. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons these include:

• Never participate alone in a winter sport.

• Keep in shape and condition muscles before participating in winter activities.

• Warm up thoroughly before playing or participating. Cold muscles,tendons, and ligaments are vulnerable to injury.

• Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets,gloves, and padding.

• Check that equipment is working properly prior to use.

• Wear several layers of light, loose, and water/wind-resistant clothing for warmth and protection. Layering allows you to accommodate your body’s constantly changing temperature. Wear proper footwear that provides warmth and dryness, as well as ample ankle support.

• Know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating.

• Take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially in sports like skiing and snowboarding. Learning how to fall correctly and safely can reduce the risk of injury.

• Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature.

• Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you, or anyone with you, is experiencing hypothermia or frostbite. Make sure everyone is aware of proper procedures for getting help, if injuries occur.

• Drink plenty of water before, during, and after activities.

• Avoid participating in sports when you are in pain or exhausted.

• Become familiar with your surroundings. Know the whereabouts of fences, trees, rocks, open water, and ice patches so they can be avoided. Stay on marked trails and avoid any potentially dangerous areas such as steep hills. Slippery surfaces are particularly troublesome, as they can cause sudden jarring movements (e.g., unnatural fall avoidance).

• Reduce risk of severe head injuries with protective head gear. The National Pediatric Trauma Registry reports that almost half of all winter sports injuries are head injuries. Protect children from traumatic brain injury, disability, and possible death by having them wear a properly fitted helmet when sledding, ice skating, playing hockey, skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

• Sled feet first. Sledding feet first makes sledding safer. Children should also always have adult supervision while sledding. Make sure the sled route is clear of trees and rocks.


When you head out to shovel, make sure you dress warm and in layers. Most people end up bundling up but get hot once they start working and shed the coat. It is better to dress in layers which can help you shed piece by piece when you start to get too warm.

Early signs of cold injury (called frost nip) can occur when temperatures fall below freezing. The skin typically appears white and numb. This is best treated by moving to a warm indoor location, removing any wet clothing, and submerging the area in warm (not hot) water. Remember, dressing warm will keep your muscles warm, which will help prevent strain or unnecessary tension.

Also, make sure you wear proper footwear. Don’t head out in regular tennis shoes or dress shoes. Treaded, warm boots help support your feet and body and will give you better traction if it is icy.Another good rule of thumb is to do some stretching before you go outside to loosen your muscles and warm them up. Warm muscles work more efficiently and are less likely to be injured.

Lastly, shovel early and often. Newly fallen snow is lighter and easier to move than when it is wet and packed down. When you shovel, push the snow rather than lift it. Remember to pace yourself and take frequent breaks.

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Adam E. Hyatt, M.D., FAAOS

Sports Medicine, Hip
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