Skiing Injuries

The speed of movement and unpredictability of the environment means skiing is potentially extremely dangerous. Some of the most common skiing injuries are outlined below:

Head injuries

Head injuries can be extremely serious and potentially life-threatening. Skiing is one of the most dangerous sports in terms of the risk of suffering a serious head injury, with head injuries constituting an estimated 10-20% of ski injuries.

Causes of head injuries

Most head injuries are caused by falls, accidents and high speed impact with objects or surfaces; this is certainly true in skiing, where most casualties bang their heads as a result of a fall or accident.

Symptoms of head injuries

A blow to the head may result in confusion, dizziness and drowsiness. Superficial symptoms may include cuts, grazes and bruising; deep cuts may bleed continuously. Serious head injuries can cause people to lose consciousness. Some symptoms may appear some time after the incident occurred; this can be symptomatic of a serious head injury so it is wise to get checked out.

Treating a head injury

Minor head injuries

Head injuries have the potential to be fatal so it important to get checked out even if the injury appears minor. Minor head injuries will usually cause headaches which can generally be treated with pain relief medication. It is recommended that a person who has had a minor head injury should rest for a period of 48 hours following the incident. Cuts and grazes can usually be treated with antiseptic cream and plasters; more serious cuts may require stitches or glue. Some people who have had a blow to the head will suffer from concussion; this often makes people feel very drowsy and can cause them to lose consciousness; concussion should be monitored carefully and medical help should be sought if the patient becomes confused, light-headed or drifts in and out of consciousness.

Serious head injuries

More serious accidents should be treated as an emergency health condition and the emergency services should be called as quickly as possible. Paramedics will try to stabilise the casualty’s head and neck and check their airways, breathing and circulation. If a casualty is unconscious they will usually be transferred to an intensive care unit, where their condition will be monitored closely.

Preventing head injuries

Many skiers wear helmets now to protect their heads in the event of an accident; it is recommended that all skiers wear protective headwear and clothing; these measures have been proven to significantly improve the chance of survival if a serious accident occurs. All people who wish to ski should stick to the relevant routes for their ability and keep to the designated slopes.

Knee injuries

Knee injuries account for 30-40% of all ski injuries. The body position, speed and changes of direction involved in skiing make the knee vulnerable to injury; some of the most common injuries are listed below:

Types of knee injury

Ligament damage

The most common knee injury in skiing is damage to the medial collateral ligament, which runs on the outer side of the knee; this is often caused by the knee twisting and can also result from a minor fall. Cruciate ligament injuries are also common and have been attributed to equipment worn to support the ankle, according to recent research studies; methods of preventing injury to the shin and ankle have caused pressure to be diverted to the anterior cruciate ligament, leaving it vulnerable to injury and strain.

Symptoms of ligament damage

Common symptoms include pain, swelling and a restricted range of movement around the affected ligament.

Treating ligament damage

Minor sprains can heal fairly quickly with the help of rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. More serious sprains and ruptures may take a long time to heal and recover; the knee will need to be rested for a long period of time; a person with a serious ligament injury may also be advised to use crutches to prevent the knee from having to bear weight; this will allow the joint time to heal and prevent further damage. Physiotherapy will help to speed up recovery and increase strength and flexibility around the affected ligament.

Knee dislocations

Dislocations can either affect the kneecap of the joint itself. Commonly, dislocations are caused by a sudden change of direction or the knee twisting while the foot is still planted on the ground.

Patella dislocation

This is commonly known as a dislocated kneecap. The kneecap becomes displaced and the area will generally swell and be very painful. Usually, the kneecap can be slipped back into place fairly easily. Once the kneecap has been returned to its original position, the area should be treated with rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. The knee joint should be given time to recover before the individual starts to exercise again.

Knee joint dislocation

This form of dislocation is rare and affects the whole of the knee joint. This condition occurs when the bottom of the femur loses contact with the top of the tibia. The ligaments in and around the knee joint will suffer significant damage if the knee is dislocated; often both the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments are affected, which can be a very serious and debilitating injury. Knee dislocations are commonly caused by high impact contact or falls. This injury may require surgery to repair the ligaments and re-set the joint. Recovery from a knee dislocation will take several weeks and will require the knee being immobilised. Once the healing process has started, physiotherapy will help to gradually increase movement in the area and strengthen the muscles and tissues surrounding the knee joint.

Preventing knee injuries

Knee braces may be worn to support the knee when skiing. It is also advisable to take part in regular exercise prior to going skiing in order to increase fitness and loosen joints. Maintaining a healthy and stable weight will also reduce pressure on the knee joint.

Shoulder injuries

Shoulder injuries are usually caused by falls or awkward landings; they are also common in skiers who specialise in aerial tricks and jumps.

Rotator cuff strains

Rotator cuff strains are the most common cause of pain in the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles, which serve to protect and support the shoulder joint. The most common rotator cuff injury is tendonitis, which occurs when the tendons surrounding the muscles become swollen; this usually results from overuse or an action which requires the tendons to stretch beyond their limits.

Symptoms of rotator cuff strains

The most common symptom is a sudden onset of pain in the shoulder; pain becomes heightened when the arms are raised or the shoulder is moved. Movement in the joint will usually be restricted.

Treating rotator cuff strains

Rotator cuff strains can usually be treated with rest, ice and a combination of analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications. Minor strains will usually heal quickly if the shoulder is rested sufficiently. During the healing process, light exercises will help to build up strength in the shoulder and gradually increase movement in the joint.

Fractured clavicle (collarbone)

Causes of fractured clavicles

Broken collarbones are commonly caused by impact or falling; these injuries are also common when a person falls onto an outstretched hand as this causes pressure to build and shoot up the arm.

Symptoms of a fractured clavicle

The collarbone is usually deformed when it is fractured; this is often visible immediately after the incident. This injury is very painful and will often swell and bruise. Pain will usually be felt around the site of the fracture and extend into the shoulder and arms.

Treating a fractured clavicle

The affected arm will usually be placed in a sling to prevent movement in the shoulder joint which would apply pressure to the fractured collarbone; this will allow the fracture time to heal. Once the fracture has started to heal, physiotherapy and light exercises will help to gradually build strength around the affected area and increase the range of movement in the shoulder and neck. Ice and anti-inflammatory medication will help to reduce swelling.

Shoulder dislocation

The shoulder joint is more susceptible to dislocation than other joints, such as the hip, as the socket is relatively shallow. Commonly, shoulder dislocations occur as a result of high speed impact or a fall which results in landing in an awkward position; this applies pressure on the connective tissue, which may extend beyond its limits. Dislocations usually affect the anterior portion of the shoulder.

Symptoms of shoulder dislocation

The most common symptom is the sudden onset of extreme pain, which may extend into the back and arms as well as the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint may look deformed and the area will usually swell. Bruising may also be visible.

Treating a shoulder dislocation

The ball of the shoulder joint will first need to be inserted back into the socket. Once this has been done, the affected arm will usually be immobilised by using a sling; some dislocations will require a splint; this depends on the nature of the dislocation. Commonly, the connective tissue surrounding the joint will be damaged when the shoulder is dislocated; these injuries will take time to heal and will require a long period of rest. Physiotherapy will help to improve movement and strengthen the muscles and connective tissue in the shoulder joint.

Spinal injuries

Spinal injuries are generally rare in sport; however, there is a significant risk of such injuries in skiing due to the speed of movement and the unpredictability of the surroundings. Spinal injuries are commonly caused by falls; even a small fall can have serious implications so it is best to treat all spinal injuries as emergency health conditions.

Symptoms of spinal injuries

Minor spinal injuries usually cause pain and numbness. Major injuries can be very serious so it is important to look out for the following signs: loss of movement, loss of sensation, loss of reaction to stimulation, difficulties with breathing, loss of control over bodily functions and muscle spasms; these symptoms are commonly associated with damage to the spinal cord and can be potentially life-threatening.

Effects of spinal injuries

Minor injuries can cause restricted movement and aches and pains. People who have suffered from any spinal injury may be prone to back pain in the future. Major spinal injuries can lead to partial or total paralysis, if the spinal cord has been damaged considerably. Paralysis is caused by extensive damage to the nervous system which suppresses the delivery of sensory messages to the brain.

Treating a spinal injury

Major spinal injuries should be treated as an emergency condition. First aid treatment should involve trying to stabilise the casualty’s condition; if the casualty has lost consciousness, the first person on the scene should contact emergency medical help. If the casualty is suspected of having a spinal injury, do not attempt to move them; this may cause further damage, which may be long-lasting. Once the casualty has been taken to hospital, they will usually have a CT scan to determine the extent of the damage to the spine.

Commonly, spinal injury patients have to spend a long period of time resting; this usually involves lying flat on their back. Gradually, exercises and physiotherapy will help to strengthen the spine and increase movement; some patients may have to learn to walk again. After they have been discharged, some patients will need assistance with mobility, which may involve using a wheelchair or a walking stick. Some patients will wear a cast to stabilise and align the spine and support the back during movement. People who have been paralysed as a result of a spinal injury will usually have to cope with this condition for life, although physiotherapy may help to stimulate sensations in some cases.

Thumb injuries

Thumb injuries are commonly not recognised as serious injuries; however, they can be very painful and debilitating.

Causes of thumb injuries

Thumb injuries are commonly caused by direct or indirect impact; impact injuries are usually the result of falls or collisions, while indirect injuries are associated with strain or pressure on the connective tissue surrounding the thumb.

Common thumb injuries


Fractures are commonly caused by direct impact to the thumb which may result from falling onto a hard surface such as ice or compact snow or a collision with another skier or an object such as a fence or post. A fracture occurs when the bone is partially or fully broken. Bennett’s fracture is a name commonly given to an oblique fracture of the lower portion of the thumb; this fracture involves a diagonal break across the bone.

Symptoms of thumb fractures

Symptoms include a sudden onset of pain and swelling around the affected area. The range of movement around the thumb may also be limited.

Treating thumb fractures

Most fractures are treated with a cast; this supports the thumb and helps to stabilise the bone. The thumb should be rested and analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication will also usually be prescribed. Gentle exercises should be introduced once the thumb has started to heal and the cast has been removed; this will gradually increase the range of movement around the thumb.

Skier’s thumb

What is skier’s thumb?

Skier’s thumb is a condition, which results from damage to the ulnar collateral ligament; this causes the thumb to become strained.

Causes of skier’s thumb

The most common cause of skier’s thumb is a fall; falls involving ski poles increase pressure on the thumb which may contribute to ligament damage. Skier’s thumb can also result from the thumb being stretched backwards or to one side beyond its limits.

Symptoms of skier’s thumb

Common symptoms include swelling, throbbing pain and subsequent bruising (this will usually appear about 3 days after the incident).

Treating skier’s thumb

Treatment usually involves frequent ice compressions and medication to control pain and inflammation. The thumb should be rested for a period of time to allow it to heal completely. More serious conditions may require the thumb to be immobilised using a cast; while torn ligaments may need surgical repair.

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