Whether or not the groundhog sees its shadow, for many kids around the country February is winter's last hurrah, a final chance to break out the skis and sleds. But every year, thousands of children in the U.S. are injured in winter-related activities, regardless of whether they live in warm or cold climates.
Tracy Zaslow, M.D., director of the Children’s Orthopaedic Center Sports Concussion Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), notes that skiing, snowboarding and sledding do cause many of the pediatric injuries she sees during the season. Children are at higher risk than adults for skiing and snowboarding injuries, with males most at risk for severe injuries to the head and neck. Nearly half of injuries occur with novice beginner skiers and snowboarders, Dr. Zaslow says, in part because they are less likely to have mastered the skill sets needed to avoid obstacles and fall down safely.
"Because of the high speeds that are traveled, it can go from a mild injury – bruises and sprains — to severe fractures that require surgery or head injuries that lead to bleeding in the brain," says Dr. Zaslow.
However, some less-than-traditional winter sports can lead to serious injuries too, especially in warmer climates or coastal states.
"One thing interesting about Southern California, for example, is that the surf is usually bigger around winter time," says J. Lee Pace, M.D., director of CHLA's Sports Medicine Program at the Children’s Orthopaedic Center, "So you tend to see more surfing injuries, from ankle or knee sprains to broken bones to head injuries."
Warmer winters also tend to foster overuse injuries as kids continue to play the same summer and fall sports in the offseason. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, overuse injuries in children are on the rise in recent years, especially those related to athletics. These occur when parts of the body don't have proper time to heal between use, and young growing athletes could suffer injuries that impair growth or lead to long-term health problems.
"As much as we want to go out and enjoy these fun winter activities, we want to think about safety as well," says Dr. Zaslow.
Ways to Protect Kids Against Injuries This Winter
Skiing, Snowboarding and Sledding
1.Wear a helmet: A snugly-fitted helmet on your child’s head can significantly reduce risk of skull fractures and bleeding in the brain, and also keeps your child’s head warm. However, Zaslow warns, helmets do not prevent concussions.
2.Wear wrist guards: Many of us instinctively put our hands out to catch ourselves when we fall, which is why wrist injuries are common among snowboarders. Wrist guards can reduce risk of wrist fractures and sprains; these days they are often built into snowboarding gloves.
3.Watch those bindings: Automatic-release bindings on skis need to be adjusted to your child's weight and height. Too loose, and they won't provide stability. Too tight, and they may not release from ski boots when needed, causing legs to twist improperly.
Preventing Other Types of Winter Injuries
1.UV protection: Even when it's cool or cloudy outside, ultraviolet rays from the sun can still cause eye and skin damage (snow reflection and higher altitudes make UV light even more dangerous). Sunglasses, goggles and sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) are a must.
2.Cross-train in the offseason: "Exercising different muscle groups, training and participating in multiple sports is absolutely advocated by every sports organization as an excellent injury prevention mechanism as well as performance enhancer," says Dr. Zaslow. Studies have shown that playing different sports develops different skill sets, allows other muscle groups to rest and avoid injuries, and help kids perform better in the sports they're most passionate about.
Finally, Watch Your Head
CHLA doctors say the one type of injury they see all year, regardless of season, is concussion. "People often think concussions are really exclusive to football and other high contact sports," says Dr. Zaslow, "but we see them from all different sports, including surfing, skiing, snowboarding. And so really one of the best ways to prevent a serious concussion is to know your surroundings."
She says parents should stress to kids the importance of staying alert. On the slopes, that means knowing who is skiing above and below you, where out-of-bounds areas are, and keeping a watch for obstacles like rocks and trees. On the surf, that means recognizing shallow shoals and understanding how big a wave you can handle. And on the playing field, that means knowing when your body needs a rest by keeping track, for example, of the number of pitches thrown, balls kicked or laps swum.