155344279Winter is just around the corner and before you know it the snow will be falling. Soon, we will be dusting off our snowshoes, skis, skates, sleds, and helmets to get ready for the winter fun.

Making sure that your gear is in proper working condition is important, but it is equally important to know how to keep yourself safe and injury-free.

In the United States, 3.8 million people suffered from a winter sports injury in 2013. Many of these injuries could have been prevented. If you follow these tips, you will be on your way to a happy, healthy winter sports season. Some of these tips may even save your life.

Don’t Go Alone

When playing winter sports, the most dangerous thing you can do is play them alone. Stay close enough to one another so you can react quickly if there is an accident.

Do Warm-up Exercises and Drink Water

Your muscles and heart need to be in good shape before any type of physical activity, let alone an intense winter activity. Muscles get tighter when the temperature drops, and your blood vessels contract. As a result, you’re more likely to get exhausted or develop a muscle cramp, and that raises the risk of a more serious injury.

Your warm-up routine should include:

  • Stretching your arms, legs, and back
  • Arm circles
  • Twisting your upper body
  • Squats
  • Jumping rope or running in place
  • Staying hydrated

Use Protective Equipment

Most common winter sports injuries can be minimized – or prevented altogether – by wearing reliable protective equipment. The most essential piece is a helmet. Numerous studies have proven their effectiveness in preventing head injuries, which are more likely to be fatal than other types of injuries. If you have an old helmet, check it for signs of wear and tear – even a few collisions can do significant damage. Don’t forget to buy padding for other body parts, such as arms and legs.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

The best clothing options for outdoor activity include:

  • A shirt and long underwear
  • A long-sleeved shirt or fleece vest
  • A fleece jacket or insulated jacket liner
  • A waterproof outer shell
  • Insulated gloves
  • Wool socks
  • Insulated shoes or boots

Be Familiar With Your Surroundings

If you are in an unfamiliar place, it could take you by surprise. Many winter sports injuries occur because someone didn’t anticipate a big tree or rock on the ski slope, or didn’t notice a thin patch of ice during a hockey game. Knowing what’s around you helps you figure out where to go – and which areas to avoid.

  • Avoid crowded areas so you don’t run into someone
  • Don’t wear headphones
  • Stay away from rocks and trees

Keep scanning the area – you never know when something will appear unexpectedly.

Know Your Limits

It can be hard for some people to stop the fun, but this might be one of the most important winter sports safety tips you can follow. Even after following every skiing, skating or snowboarding injury prevention guideline, you could end up feeling exhausted or experiencing pain. In either case, it’s time to stop. You might want to challenge yourself, but it’s not worth putting your health at risk.

Christina Keating is the Injury Prevention Coordinator/Safe Kids Vermont Coordinator at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital.

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