What Are the Most Common Skiing and Snowboarding Injuries?

Skiing and snowboarding are hugely popular in Utah, which boasts some of the nation’s best slopes for beginners and experts alike.  However, while snowboarding and skiing are beloved sports, both can cause debilitating injuries – particularly if ski resort employees act with negligence while performing their job duties.  But what types of injuries are most likely to occur?  Salt Lake City snowboarding accident lawyer Darwin Overson evaluates statistics to determine what injuries are most common in Utah skiers and snowboarders.

Study Compares Injury Patterns in Utah Skiers and Snowboarders

Most people think that snowboarding is more dangerous than skiing.  However, as we discussed in a previous article, the opposite is actually true: you are more likely to be injured while skiing than snowboarding.  The risk is especially high for males in their late teens, 20s, or 30s, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA).

As our earlier article also mentioned, a study published in the Journal of Trauma revealed some stark differences in injury patterns between skiers and snowboarders who were in accidents in Utah.  Skiers, the study found, were more likely to suffer lower extremity injuries, while snowboarders were more likely to suffer organ damage and injuries to the torso.  Both were prone to head injuries, but skiers were more likely to score higher on the Glasgow Coma Scale, meaning brain injuries among skiers were more severe.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at these injuries, examining how they affect the body, the complications that can arise, and some of the treatments that may be necessary, depending on the injury’s severity.

Common Knee Injuries from Skiing: Torn Ligaments and Joint Dislocations

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A “lower extremity injury” is an injury to the leg, knee, ankle, or foot.  These types of injuries were very commonly reported, affecting 51.3% of the 794 skiers (about 407 people) and 26.2% of the 348 snowboarders (about 91 people).  Some common examples of lower extremity injuries caused by skiing or snowboarding include:

  • Dislocation Injuries – Dislocation injuries are also called luxation injuries.  When a joint is dislocated, it means a separation has developed in the joint, causing pain and restricting the range of motion in the affected area.  The person may also experience sensations of numbness or tingling.  According to the North Staffordshire Medical Institute, two common knee dislocations from skiing accidents are:
    • Knee Joint Dislocations – This type of dislocation affects the entire knee joint, not just the kneecap.  Knee joint dislocations are serious injuries that sometimes require surgery to correct.  After surgery, the patient must spend several weeks resting the joint for proper healing to occur.
    • Patella Dislocations – Patella is the medical term for the kneecap.  When the patella is dislocated, the knee will become swollen, painful, and lose flexibility.  Dislocated patella injuries are more common and are generally easier to treat than dislocated knee joints.
  • Torn Ligaments – Ligaments are sturdy yet flexible bands of tissue that join bones together within a joint, allowing a smooth range of motion.  When a ligament is stretched too far or tears altogether, it is called a sprain, which is a type of soft tissue injury like whiplash.  Most people have heard of a torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), but in skiing, it is more common to suffer a torn MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament), which joints the tibia and femur.  According to Dr. Rick Cunningham, a Knee and Shoulder Sports Medicine Specialist at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics in Colorado, “MCL tears are the most common ligament injuries occurring in winter sports, and account for 20 to 25% of all skiing injuries.”

Torn MCL injuries are ranked by severity from Grade 1 to Grade 3.  A Grade 3 MCL tear, the most serious type, causes intense pain and soreness around and inside the knee, making it all but impossible to walk, let alone perform demanding physical tasks.  Surgery may be necessary.

Effects of Internal Injuries in Snowboarders: Spleen, Liver, and Kidney Damage

Snowboarders were more likely to sustain damage to their vital organs, notably the kidneys and liver.  In the Journal of Trauma study, 3.7% of the snowboarders (about 13 people) suffered liver injuries, while 2.2% (about eight people) sustained kidney damage.

The liver is responsible for filtering toxins out of the bloodstream, in addition to making proteins that allow blood to clot.  Liver trauma caused by a snowboarding accident can cause:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Internal bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

A liver laceration or rupture can be life-threatening if not quickly repaired through surgery.  Because the liver is vital to survival, only its damaged portions will be removed during surgery, not the entire organ.

Playing a similar role to the liver, the kidneys function to remove waste from the bloodstream.  They also produce urine and Vitamin D, regulate blood pressure by releasing certain hormones, and balance various bodily fluids.  A snowboarder who has suffered kidney trauma will need surgery to repair the damage.  If the damage cannot be repaired, the damaged kidney will need to be completely removed in a procedure called a nephrectomy.

Assuming no complications arise, recovery takes about three weeks, according to the University of Connecticut.  However, recovery time may be as long as eight weeks for a particularly severe injury.  Potential postoperative complications of kidney surgery include:

  • Hemorrhaging (excessive bleeding)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Kidney failure
  • Renal artery thrombosis (clots that obstruct the arteries which supply blood to the kidneys)
  • Wrongful death

Spleen injuries were more common than liver or kidney injuries.  According to the study, 11.2% of snowboarders suffered spleen damage (about 39 cases).

Though not vital for survival like the liver and kidneys, the spleen also plays an important role in regulating bodily functions.  Living with spleen damage – or with no spleen at all – makes you more likely to develop infections, as one of the spleen’s key functions is to fight off bacteria.  As a result, a snowboarder who has suffered spleen damage will be more susceptible to infections, such as:

  • Haemophilus Influenzae – Surprisingly, the Haemophilus influenzae bacteria does not cause the flu.  It can, however, lead to a range of mild to severe infections, including infections of the bloodstream.  Though babies and young children are at higher risk, people of all ages are susceptible to Haemophilus influenzae.  The risk is greater in people with compromised spleen function.
  • Pneumococcal Disease – Pneumococcal disease is a serious infection which can lead to a plethora of illnesses, some of which are life-threatening.  According to the CDC, Streptococcus pneumoniae, the bacteria that causes pneumococcal disease, can lead to ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonia (lung infections), or meningitis (an infection of the meninges, or membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain).  Though all of these infections can give rise to complications if left untreated, meningitis is of the greatest concern, because it can kill a formerly healthy person in a matter of days or even hours.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) in Skiers and Snowboarders

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The Trauma study noted that head injuries were common in both sports.  In skiers, common head injuries (facial injuries) included:

  • Facial Bone Fractures – 5.2% of the skiers in the study (about 41 people) broke one or more facial bones.  Examples of facial fractures include broken noses (nasal fractures), broken jaws (mandibular fractures), and fractures of the cheekbone and/or eye socket.
  • Facial Lacerations – Facial lacerations are seldom life-threatening, but can leave prominent scars behind, which may lead to depression and necessitate corrective surgery.

Though these types of head injuries were more common in skiers, brain injuries were more common in snowboarders.  However, skiers typically had worse medical outcomes from brain injuries.

A traumatic brain injury – where the term “traumatic” describes an injury caused by physical impact – can be classified as “mild” (like a concussion), “moderate,” or “severe.”  Though it is rare for concussions to have long-term effects, repeat concussions make it more difficult to heal while simultaneously increasing the risk of developing persistent symptoms.

A severe brain injury can disrupt virtually every mental and physical function, including:

  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Mobility
  • Mood regulation
  • Sensory perception

The extent of these effects depends largely on which area of the brain was injured, and how severely.  For example, if someone strikes the back of their head and damages the brain’s occipital lobe, they could experience vision problems or lose their eyesight altogether.

Spinal cord injuries (SCI), which sometimes occur with TBI, are also common among skiers and snowboarders in Utah, particularly the latter group.  In the Trauma study, 20.7% of snowboarders (about 72 people) suffered injuries to the spinal cord, compared to 13.4% of skiers (about 106 people).

The most serious effect of a spine injury is paralysis, which may affect the entire body below the neck (known as quadriplegia or tetraplegia), or the lower body below the waist (known as paraplegia).  In addition to causing loss of mobility and sensory perception, paralysis can also cause respiratory problems if the muscles that control breathing are affected.

Were You Hurt in a Skiing or Snowboarding Accident at a Mountain Resort in Utah?

If you or one of your family members was injured while skiing or snowboarding at a mountain resort in Utah, such as Park City Mountain Resort or Deer Valley Resort, you may be able to obtain compensation if the accident was caused by the carelessness of a resort employee.  Park City Mountain Resort snowboarding accident lawyer Darwin Overson has years of experience handling personal injury claims on behalf of injured skiers and snowboarders, and is ready to fight aggressively in pursuit of compensation for you and your loved ones.

To talk about your snowboarding or skiing injury claim in a free legal consultation, call Overson Law at (801) 895-3143 today.  Our personal injury law firm handles cases throughout Utah.

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