Snowboarding has come a long way in the last few years. No longer considered an extreme sport confined to the young and adventurous, it is enjoyed by thousands of people every year, many of them older people who have progressed from skiing.
Snowboarding involves strapping your feet onto a board a bit like a skateboard, and sliding your way down the snow, performing jumps and tricks as your skills progress. Like skiing, it requires good balance and a healthy dose of confidence to do at all, never mind with any level of skill.
Also like skiing, however, snowboarding can be a dangerous pastime. Exact statistics are hard to come by, but it is estimated that between two and three people per 1,000 winter sports participants are injured on any one day.
That number is not large, and of course any physical activity can result in injury, despite our best efforts to stay safe. Thankfully, the vast majority of these injuries are minor or relatively so.
In this article we will be looking at the most common snowboarding injuries, how they are likely to occur and how they are usually treated.
One of the most common parts of the body to be injured in a snowboarding fall is the ankle. The ankle is most likely to be injured when landing badly from a jump, and can occur as a result of wearing boots which do not provide enough support for this vital area of the foot.
Snowboarding boots tend to be softer than skiing boots, which makes them more comfortable but offers less support in the event of a fall or twist.
Ankles can be sprained or even fractured during a bad landing, leading to a trip to hospital and at least a couple of months out of action. A common injury and named after the sport is snowboarder’s ankle which is where there is a fracture of the lateral process of the talus bone.
Broken ankles can be serious, as the joint is a complex one, and the worst kind may require surgery to realign the affected bones.
As prevention is always better than cure, it is advisable to wear strong boots when snowboarding in order to provide the support you need when landing. It's also important to get the required training to make sure you are snowboarding in the safest way possible.
One joint up from the ankle, the knee is another area of the body which is vulnerable to injury in winter sports.
Landing heavily on your legs after an impressive leap can cause uncommon pressure on the knee joint, particularly in older people whose joints may be affected by everyday wear and tear.
Knee injuries do not always follow a fall. They can also be caused by rapid twisting, or through changing direction on the board at high speed, which puts unnatural pressure on the joint. This can lead to damage to the ligaments, which can be treated by applying ice to the injury and resting the joint.
The best way to avoid injury to the knee is through the use of a specialist knee brace (such as the CTi J), which help protect the joint by reducing any impact upon it.
Probably the most serious injury any sportsman or woman can face, head injuries are thankfully not very common.
Any fall - even that on a pavement while trying to cross the street - can result in your head coming into contact with something hard, which can, at worst, cause a fractured skull, brain damage or even result in a fatality.
As snowboarding requires you to slide around on a slippery surface whilst balancing on a thin board, falls are of course inevitable - and probably quite frequent - although serious injuries are much less likely.
A more common head injury is concussion, which is caused by the brain moving against the skull during a collision. Symptoms of a concussion include confusion, memory loss, disorientation, headaches, dizziness and nausea, as well as changes in vision and hearing.
Thankfully most concussions are short-lived and resolve themselves without treatment, although medical advice should always be sought after any knock to the head, especially one in which the victim loses consciousness.
Studies have shown that wearing a helmet when snowboarding can reduce the risk of serious head injury in the event of a fall by up to 60 per cent, so it is advisable to wear one even if you think it’ll ruin your hair.
It is important to note, however, that you can still develop concussion even when wearing a helmet, so ensure you know the signs to look out for.
Like the ankle and knee, the wrist is another part of the body which is vulnerable to injury after overuse or through a fall.
Wrist injuries are particularly common among snowboarders, however, because in the event of a fall many people try to break the impact by instinctively putting their arms out, often landing heavily on their hands and causing injuries to the fragile and complex wrist joint.
This phenomenon is often called Falling Onto an Outstretched Hand, or FOOSH for short, and is the cause of many a broken or sprained wrist which sees its way to Accident and Emergency.
Broken wrists will require a trip to hospital, followed by a prolonged period of healing. Even a sprain on this vital joint can put you out of action for weeks on end.
The best way to prevent this type of injury is to wear wrist guards, and some are now available attached to gloves. These will ensure that if you do succumb to a FOOSH injury, you will at the very least minimise the damage done.
The shoulder is yet another area of the body which has a complex make-up, capable of being injured in many and varied ways during a fall.
Most commonly damaged is the rotator cuff, which is the group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. These tendons and muscles have the job of keeping the top of the humerus (the bone at the top of your arm) safely placed within the socket of the shoulder.
Any injury to this area - through a fall or awkward movements - will cause a lot of pain and limit the movement within the shoulder.
Most injuries to the shoulder can be treated with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, or through applying ice to the injured area to reduce swelling. Exercise may also be required to regain strength in the region.
Another common injury in this area - and one which is very common in the snowboarding community - is a broken collarbone, which can be caused as a result of the aforementioned FOOSH phenomenon, where the force from a fall is carried up through the arm and transferred to the thin and fragile collarbone.
Broken collarbones can be very painful and difficult to heal. A cast is not usually required, but a sling may be used to reduce movement.
So although there are a number of common injuries which are associated with snowboarding, it seems most of them are largely preventable if you do three things.
Get the right training: so you are able cope with falls correctly
Use the correct equipment: so you are as safe as it is possible to be
Wear the necessary safety gear: such as a helmet, strong boots, knee guards and wrist guards, to ensure that if when the inevitable spills happen along with the thrills, your body has a better chance of emerging unscathed.