Tips to prevent snowboarding injuries

Are you looking to prevent snowboarding injuries this winter season? In previous years I’ve written articles about preventing skiing injuries. You can find them here and here . This time I’ll focus on the snowboarders.  More specifically the benefit of protective devices for injury prevention. 

There are still some similarities with preventing ski injuries. Most people don’t live the endless winter. As a result, you probably go many months at a time without snowboarding, then hard at it for a few days or few weeks.

The ski article previously written here covers basic injury prevention tips prior to the season. This  includes getting a fitness and health checkup and making sure that your equipment is working correctly.

The second article  is also relevant to snowboarders as it has tips on the day like warming up, staying adequately hydrated, boarding to the conditions, improving technique by having lessons and taking particular care when doing jumps or drops (as these are higher risk activities). 

Snowboarding Injuries vs Skiing Injuries

Snowboarding injuries

There are some significant differences in the types of injuries you may encounter with each activity. Skis can impart a large rotational force on your knee during a fall. Also, ski boots are quite unforgiving. Consequently skiers are at a high risk of knee injuries.

Whereas on a snowboard your knees are in an much safer position because both feet are fixed on the same apparatus. As result there can be far less rotational force occurring at your knee if you get things wrong.

This is great news for those of you with knee issues. However it isn’t all easy sailing for snowboarders.  Unfortunately when you fall on a snowboard it often involves “catching an edge”.

When you catch an edge skiing and you are good enough, you can unweight that ski and place it back on the snow in a better position. If not, you may end up twisting your knee in ways that can cause injury to various  ligaments.

Catch an edge on your snowboard and that’s pretty much it. You’re going to hit the ground and it’s going to happen fast. This usually ends with you landing hard on your backside or your hands.

In my experience more advanced snowboarders have a tendency to ” tuck and roll” if they are falling forward which is better for the wrists but can be a problem for the AC (acromioclavicular) joint if it hits the ground hard.

Prevention tips to avoid snowboarding injuries

1. Wear wrist guards

Wrist injuries account for almost 30% of all snowboarding injuries whereas they only make up about 3% of skiing injuries. Why?

If you catch your toe side edge when snowboarding you tend to fall forward with lots of momentum. At this point you have 3 choices.

  1. Land on your face (less than desirable).
  2. Tuck and roll to land on your shoulder (requires a fair amount of skill).
  3. Put your hands out to protect yourself (most common).

Wrists aren’t really designed to cope with that amount of weight being thrown onto them at speed. Consequently you are in danger of spraining a wrist ligament or breaking one of the wrist bones.

Collar Bone fracture snowboarding

Luckily, multiple studies have shown that wrist guards have been proven to significantly reduce the likelihood of wrist injuries, including fractures. There is some weak evidence that suggests by wearing a wrist guard you are more likely to injure your elbow or shoulder .

However due to the very high prevalence of wrist injuries you are still less likely to get hurt by wearing a guard than not wearing one. And, if you do fracture your wrist that means no more snowboarding for the season.

2. Shoulder – rest, brace or surgery?

The other common injury from falling forward at speed is dislocating a shoulder. Again, this is highly inconvenient during a snowboarding holiday.

If you haven’t dislocated a shoulder before then there isn’t much you need to do preventatively. Except of course being wary not to put yourself at risk by doing something particularly difficult or outside of your skill level.

Unfortunately those of you that have previously dislocated a shoulder quite likely to do it again. Particularly if you are 20-30 years old. The initial injury didn’t have to happen snowboarding.

In the first dislocation there is a good chance that you tore some of the structures in the shoulder joint that protect it from re-dislocating. As a result each time you put your shoulder in a precarious position it has a higher chance of coming out.

Collarbone fracture

 

There are 2 ways of preventing it happening again with any success. Surgery or restrictive bracing to stop the shoulder getting into potentially dangerous positions.

4. Surgery

A shoulder surgeon can assess you to see if you are a candidate for repairing the damaged structures. If this is the case then it is probably the best long term outcome for your shoulder.

However, surgery does have its own risks, timeframes and costs that need to be weighted up. Thankfully most studies suggest that surgical intervention does a lot better job at stopping re-dislocation than physiotherapy alone or immobilization.

5. Brace

The second way of preventing your shoulder dislocating is to wear a brace that doesn’t let you lift your arm up above 90 degrees. Something similar to the “Madison”  shoulder brace.Madison Shoulder BraceI couldn’t find any specific studies to support or deny that these braces decrease the incidence of shoulder dislocation, but the theory makes sense. If you can’t lift your arm up above shoulder height is quite difficult to dislocate your shoulder (although not impossible).

However when snowboarding this comes at a risk to other body parts that you may land on, such as your head, neck or AC joint. So it is worth weighing up the pros and cons.

6. Wear a helmet

Brains are quite useful as a general rule. I’ve worn my helmet skiing for the last 10 years and thankfully it’s never been “utilized”. Similar to driving a car, you only use your seatbelt if something goes wrong, but you still wear it just in case.

For that same reason helmet use has risen drastically in skiers and boarders over the last 15 years.

snowboarding with helmets

Helmets have proven to reduce the risk of concussion in both skier and snowboards by anywhere between 15 and 60 percent. Most of the data collected has combined the 2 activities.

I tend to believe that beginner snowboarders are at higher risk of head injuries by catching their heel side and landing hard on their back. They can potentially hit their head on the snow (or in Australia bullet proof ice) in the process.

Obviously make sure you get decent quality protective equipment that passes any Australian Standards. A poor quality safety device is potentially more dangerous if it gives you a false sense of security.

For further information on snowboarding injuries and how you can avoid them, you may find it helpful to consult the Snowsafe website, or Sports Medicine Australia’s fact sheet on snowboarding.

Enjoy the snow!

 

(1) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363546511433279

(2)https://journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/Abstract/2007/03000/The_Effect_of_Wrist_Guards_on_Wrist_and_Arm.11.aspx

(3) https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/162/2/149/139525

(4) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/03635465020300010501

(5)https://journals.lww.com/jbjsjournal/Abstract/2008/04000/Primary_Arthroscopic_Stabilization_for_a.4.asp

(6) https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/44/11/781.short

 

About Simon Davis

Simon graduated from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy) in 2007. He spent several years working on the far south coast of NSW in both the hospital and private setting whilst also enjoying seasonal physiotherapy work at Jindabyne treating ski injuries during the snow season.

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