Common orthopedic injuries from winter activities

Posted by Jess Brehmer, M.D.
February 03, 2016

Jess Brehmer MD

Winter is filled with fun outdoor sports such as ice skating, sledding and downhill skiing. These activities are excellent for improving cardiovascular health and provide enjoyable entertainment for all ages. But what happens when muscular and joint injuries occur?  At the ice rink or on the slopes, injuries can happen in the blink of an eye. Musculoskeletal injuries can be debilitating and may require medical intervention.

Here are a few common winter sport-related injuries to be aware of along with some tips for preventing these injuries from occurring. 

Torn ACL

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the major stabilizing ligaments in the knee, and injury to it can result in an unstable knee. ACL reconstruction surgery is done to reconstruct the torn ligament and restore stability to the knee. ACL injuries commonly occur during winter sports that involve sudden stops, changes in direction or twisting — such as downhill skiing.

During ACL reconstruction surgery, the torn ligament is removed and replaced with a piece of tendon from another part of your knee or from a deceased donor. This surgery is an outpatient procedure that's performed through small incisions around your knee joint.

Torn meniscus

The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage — there are two in your knee, one in the inside knee compartment and one in the outside knee compartment. A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. Injuries that forcefully twist or rotate your knee, especially when putting the pressure of your full weight on it, can lead to a torn meniscus. If you have torn your meniscus, then you may experience the following signs and symptoms in your knee:

  • A popping sensation
  • Swelling or stiffness
  • Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee
  • Difficulty straightening your knee fully
  • Experiencing what feels like a block to moving your knee, as if your knee were locked in place

If, after an injury, you can't move your knee in the usual ways, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible. Conservative treatment — such as rest, ice, medication and possibly an injection — is sometimes enough to relieve the pain of a torn and maintain normal knee function. In other cases, however, a torn meniscus requires surgical treatment. If your knee remains painful, stiff or locked, your doctor may recommend surgery. It's sometimes possible to repair a torn meniscus depending on the location of the tear. If the tear can't be repaired, the meniscus may be surgically trimmed. Surgery may be done through tiny incisions using an arthroscope. After surgery, you will need to do exercises to optimize knee range of motion, strength and stability.

Wrist fracture

A broken wrist (wrist fracture) can involve the small bones in the wrist or the ends of the forearm bones. Wrist fractures most commonly occur when people try to catch themselves during a fall and land on an outstretched hand.

Treatment may include a splint, cast or surgery, depending on the severity and amount of displacement of the fracture. Surgery often involves using pins or plates and screws to hold the broken bones in the appropriate position while they heal.

Rehabilitation is an important part of the healing process, with the primary goals of restoring range of motion, strength and function.

Injury prevention

It's impossible to prevent the unforeseen events that often cause musculoskeletal injuries, but these basic tips may offer some protection:

  • Eat a nutritious diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D
  • Get plenty of weight-bearing exercise and incorporate resistance training to strengthen muscles and bones
  • Quit smoking if you're a smoker
  • Loosen up tight muscles by stretching 8-10 minutes before and after exercise
  • Move regularly throughout the day and stimulate blood flow to extremities
  • Incorporate resistance training to strengthen muscle and connective tissues

Don’t let the frigid weather or fear of injuries keep you from enjoying wintertime sports. Whether you’re hitting the slopes or sledding down a hill with your kids, listen to your body and enjoy winter activities safely.

Jess Brehmer, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing and Zumbrota

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