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Why snow plus sports so often equals injuries

Winter sports are certainly popular in northern and central New York. But whether it’s skating, skiing or sledding, falling on the snow or ice is inevitable -- and can lead to injury. This week on WRVO's health and wellness show "Take Care," hosts Linda Lowen and Lorraine Rapp speak with Syracuse-based orthopedist Dr. Naven Duggal about the risks of winter sports and how to prevent injuries.

Linda Lowen: There are so many different winter sports, and then of course the accompanying injuries, that imagine it runs the gamut. There’s downhill skiing, snowboarding. What are the most common winter sports injuries that you see?

Dr. Naven Duggal: Most commonly I’ll see sprains and strains, but oftentimes there will be more serious injuries, such as fractures and dislocations and unfortunately, head injuries and spine injuries that can happen with a lot of these activities. And you know it’s amazing how the actual numbers of these injuries, if you look at snow skiing has approximately 150,000 injuries per year; snowboarding another 150,000. When you look at ice skating and hockey, it’s almost 100,000. And the actual number that surprised me the most was tobogganing and sledding, which is almost 100,000 just alone with that sport.

Lowen: When we are talking about injuries and the severity of injuries, is it because that most of these sports, you’re moving at a pretty fast speed?

Dr. Duggal: Right. And that’s part of the issue here, is that, with a lot of these sports, having the protective gear, because of the speeds is just as crucial. And there’s a certain degree of skill level that’s required when you’re performing these type of maneuvers and activities at that type of speed level.

Lorraine Rapp: Who is most likely to be injured? Obviously when you’re out there skiing, I’m sure it could happen to anyone at any time, no matter what your level is because we know people who are great athletes, someone cuts them off, and there’s nothing they can do. But as you get older, are you more prone to sustaining injuries?

Dr. Duggal: Well, I think there’s some credence if you are older and you’re not doing the appropriate stretching before a sport, then there is going to be a slightly increased risk of having an injury. Specific to snowboarding and skiing, we do see more younger people who come in with snowboard injuries, and that may be related to the fact that this is a younger sport, more younger people are involved, and then tend to maybe take risks that some older people might not take. Helmets are crucial. Thirty-five percent of head injuries can be avoided by using a helmet while skiing or snowboarding or sledding. So I would encourage anybody who’s going to be participating in any of these winter activities to use a helmet. So I think there’s a lot of evidence out there that suggests using the appropriate equipment is important in preventing injury.

Lowen: A lot of people come home from a day at the slopes and they’ve got the usual aches and pains and you know, it will wear off in a couple days. But how about that versus something that causes discomfort and you realize, ‘gee, maybe I did something to myself.’ How do you know when you should just be treating something at home or whether it needs medical attention.

Dr. Duggan: That’s a tough one. If a patient had pain with weight bearing, if that they found they had loss of motion of a joint such a their shoulder or their knee, or they really found they had inability to do certain activities that they normally would do – those are, I think, all good reasons to be seen and evaluated. I think every patient’s different, but I don’t think patients need to suffer. And if you’re having pain with just doing normal activities after a day at the slopes, that needs to be evaluated. And the best way to do that is to see your health care provider, and they’re able to give you an opinion about it if this needs to be investigated further.

More of this interview can be heard on "Take Care," WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.