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Downhill Sports Can Take a Dangerous Turn

Expert advises skiers, snowboarders to keep alert and wear a helmet

SUNDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Skiers and snowboarders need to understand that they're at risk for potentially serious injuries if they don't take proper safety precautions, advises a trauma injury expert.

"Due to the nature of these sports, many of the injuries that skiers and snowboarders suffer are serious and require immediate medical attention," orthotraumatologist Dr. Wade Smith, vice chairman of orthopedics for the Geisinger Health System, said in a news release.

Each winter, between 30 and 60 skiers and snowboarders die on U.S. slopes.

Head injuries are the most serious threat, as evidenced by the deaths of several celebrities, including Natasha Richardson and Sonny Bono. Taking a hill too fast or failing to pay attention to their surroundings can leave skiers and snowboarders susceptible to violent falls or collisions that can result in severe head and/or neck injuries.

Smith said skiers and snowboarders need to be mindful of others on the slopes, watch for patches of ice or rocks, and should never attempt a hill too fast or too steep for their ability. He also recommended that skiers and snowboarders of all ages wear a helmet.

Knee injuries are the most common type of injury suffered by skiers and snowboarders, accounting for 25 percent to 40 percent of all injuries.

"Knee injuries are often very painful and can require surgery and extensive rehab," Smith said. "A torn meniscus, for example, a common ski injury, can result in sharp pain and occasionally arthroscopic surgery. A torn ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] requires arthroscopic surgery, rehab and physical therapy that can last from four months to more than one year."

Keeping your knees bent while skiing and snowboarding can help reduce stress on the knees, and falling when you lose your balance, instead of trying to fight the fall, can help prevent knee injury, Smith said.

Fractures are another common injury suffered by skiers and snowboarders.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers ski injury prevention tips.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Geisinger Health System, news release, January, 2010

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