An adult and two children are joyfully sledding down a snowy hill in the sunlight. They are wearing blue snowsuits and boots.

Cold winter winds and temperatures don’t have to keep you and your family indoors until the first sign of spring. With the right preparation, winter sports can become an enjoyable part of the season.

While heat injuries are more common than cold, spending time outdoors playing winter sports can present its own challenges and injury risk.

“In addition to the common sports injuries including concussions, sprains, strains, ligament tears, fractures, and overuse injuries like Osgood-Schlatter disease,” says Gregory Bentz Jr., MD, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at EVMS, “with winter sports, we commonly see injuries from skiing and snowboarding, especially concussions and knee injuries.”

Even walking outdoors following a cold rain can be dangerous. As temperatures drop, doorsteps, driveways and sidewalks may develop an invisible covering of ice. When icy surfaces cannot be avoided, experts recommend waddling like a penguin: point your feet out slightly, bend knees, walk flat-footed, extend arms to maintain balance and shuffle or take short slow steps for stability. 

Both children and adults are vulnerable to winter injuries from exposure to freezing temperatures and cold and damp environments. If you decide to venture out into the cold, now is not the time to take chances, says Dr. Bentz. “It is essential to know your expertise level and ensure helmets are worn during these activities and stay within your comfort zone on the slopes.”

When is it too cold to exercise or play sports outdoors? Temperatures less than 10°C or 50°F put people at a higher risk of hypothermia. However, cold injury can occur at higher temperatures, so pay close attention to temperature fluctuations.

If hypothermia occurs due to cold exposure, it may become a medical emergency. The skin of the hands, feet, ears and nose are vulnerable to the elements and injuries can range from frostnip to frostbite. Also, people with asthma need to be conscious of symptoms during cold months, as cold air can be a trigger.

To reduce the chance of winter sports injury, drink lots of water and avoid alcohol to stay hydrated. Also, dress appropriately for the activity. Gear should include:

  • gloves
  • proper footwear
  • goggles
  • insulating layer such as fleece or wool
  • outer layer which is water- or windproof
  • protective gear like crash pads or a helmet

If an injury does happen, seek medical help. Delaying care may be the worst thing you can do, which can lead to longer healing times, more time away from sports or complications from the initial injury.

To make an appointment with Dr. Bentz, visit EVMS Family and Community Medicine or call 757.397.6344.