While it’s not winter, yet, Mother Nature has a way of encroaching on the autumn season with previews of cold temperatures, snow and ice. And, in areas like the Pacific Northwest, where winter recreation and sports are popular, it’s only a matter of time before people are out skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and sledding.
It’s during these times of year when Seattle physical therapist Erik Norwood likes to offer a refresher on ways to stay safe when such winter-like stretches beckon us outdoors.
“While some see cooler temperatures and see that as a perfectly good reason to stay indoors, others can’t wait to hit the trails, the hills and the slopes whenever fresh powder falls,” said Norwood, owner of Renew Physical Therapy in Seattle. “It’s important, though, that such eagerness doesn’t cause you to overlook considerations that can and will make the experiences safe and positive.”
After all, recent statistics show more than 220,000 are treated annually at hospitals, doctor’s offices and emergency rooms for injuries related to winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, skating and sledding. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, common injuries included sprains, strains, dislocations and fractures.
“Based on statistics, most of these injuries happen at the end of the day,” Norwood said. “This makes sense as this is when the body’s most tired and participants may be pushing themselves for a last run before the day ends.”
Norwood adds, however, that many winter sports injuries can be prevented if only people would follow a few basic safety guidelines. These include:
Be in Shape: Even if you unexpectedly wake up one Saturday to a beautiful snowfall, don’t just strap on the skis and assume you can pick right up where you left off last year. Be sure your body’s in optimal condition for your sport or activity, and always start light as your body adjusts to both the cold weather and the movement of the sport.
Warm Up: Don’t go hard immediately. Warm up through some dynamic stretches and exercises which lightly mimic the activity. A light walk or jog, lunges, leg swings, etc., will help get the blood flowing to your muscles, helping optimize strength, flexibility and performance.
Wear Proper Clothing & Equipment: Be prepared for any condition and potential mishap by dressing in layers, using quality equipment and gear, and wearing a helmet and goggles. Also, use the buddy system. Never head up a slope or out on a trail without a partner.
Stay Hydrated: While you may not always feel thirsty when exercising in the cold, your body’s going to still need lots of water. So, always drink before, during and after your activity. Don’t wait to feel thirsty before you drink!
Listen to Your Body: Conditions like frostbite and hypothermia can affect anyone who spends any amount of time in winterlike environments. Your experience doesn’t make you immune. So, if you feel numb or cold, find yourself shivering or unable to get warm, or you feel confused or disoriented – or, if you sense any of this in your partner – get out of the cold immediately. Call it a day and warm up in a shelter, your automobile, or whatever’s available.
Visit a Physical Therapist: If you’re unsure your body’s ready for the rigors of a winter sport or activity, or you’re concerned something (i.e., pain, injury or limitation) is going to hinder your ability to take full advantage of the winter season, go see your physical therapist. Physical therapists like those at Renew Physical Therapy can assess your current condition, then put you on an individualized path toward achieving your movement-related goals.