Winter sports and cold-related injuries

Exercising in cold weather places extra demands on the body. For example, a drop in core body temperature of just 1°C causes the muscles to shiver, which in turn can lead to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) and reduced sporting performance. Most cold-related injuries can be prevented with planning, adequate preparation and proper equipment.

Prepare for winter sport

Suggestions include:

  • If you haven’t exercised regularly in months, don’t expect your body to perform sporting miracles during a weekend on the ski slopes. The best way to avoid many sports-related injuries in winter is to maintain an adequate fitness level all year round.
  • Condition the muscles particular to your chosen winter sport for a few weeks or months beforehand. For example, downhill skiing places great demands on the quadriceps (the muscles located on the front of the thigh), so condition these muscles with regular pre-season training sessions of step aerobics or stair climbing.
  • Acclimatise yourself to exercising in colder weather. For example, before you hit the ski slopes, try training outdoors for a few weeks instead of inside a warm gymnasium.
  • Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. Warm up and stretch thoroughly before playing your chosen winter sport.
  • Remember to take cold temperatures into account and spend more time warming up than usual.
  • Make sure you cool down thoroughly afterwards. Include plenty of slow, sustained stretching.

General safety suggestions

Suggestions include:

  • Never participate in winter sports alone. With a partner (or two), you can use the ‘buddy system’ and check each other for signs of hypothermia, for example.
  • Ensure that your clothing and sporting equipment (including shoes and skis) fi t you correctly. Wrongly adjusted skis, for example, can put extra strain on your knee and ankle joints, which makes strains and sprains more likely.
  •  Be aware that you are exposed to UV radiation even on cold and cloudy days. Apply broad spectrum 30+ sunscreen to all areas of exposed skin. Reapply regularly.
  • Wear close-fi tting sunglasses or goggles that meet the Australian Standard AS1067.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after sport.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. While an alcoholic drink seems to warm you up, it actually narrows your blood vessels, particularly those of the hands, which can increase your risk of hypothermia.
  • Don’t push yourself until you are exhausted. Rest at regular intervals to avoid fatigue-related injuries.

Protect your feet

Feet are particularly vulnerable to cold-related injuries. Suggestions include:

  • Treat any ailments you may have, such as bunions, before taking part in winter sports.
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition that can affect your feet, such as diabetes, see your doctor for information and advice before engaging in winter sports.
  • Ensure that your feet don’t get cold. Wear appropriate footwear (such as insulated and waterproof shoes) and wear a blend sock that ‘wicks’ sweat away from the skin.
  •  If your feet get wet, seek shelter as soon as you can. The skin tissues of wet, cold feet are in danger of freezing (frostbite).
  • Make sure all footwear fi ts you properly, especially if you are skiing or skating. Footwear that is too tight or too loose will cause a wide range of avoidable injuries, including impaired blood circulation (which could contribute to frostbite) and blisters.
  •  Winter sports such as skiing and winter running place great demands on the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscle to the ankle. Make sure to thoroughly stretch your calves beforehand to avoid injuries such as Achilles tendonitis.

This information was kindly provided by the Better Health Channel. For space reasons the content has been abridged.