Winter Sports Safety: Tips to Prevent Injuries from an Expert

Prof. Dr. Christian Gäbler

Specialist in trauma surgery and sports traumatology

Center for Sports and Joint Surgery at Confraternität Private Hospital

Professor Christian Gäbler reveals how you can enjoy skiing and prevent injuries. Professor Gäbler is a specialist in trauma surgery and sports traumatology and head of the Vienna Sports Outpatient Clinic - Center for Orthopedics and Sports Traumatology and the Center for Sports and Joint Surgery at the Confraternität Private Hospital. Being a specialist in knee and shoulder surgery he provides important information and useful tips:

Skiing vs snowboarding injuries

The knee joint is particularly at risk when skiing because the rotational movement or fixation to the ski often leads to rotational injuries with associated cruciate ligament tears and/or meniscus tears. When snowboarding, both feet are fixed to the board, and falls are more likely to cause injuries to the wrist, elbow and shoulder. Overall, the risk of fractures is two and a half times higher than with skiing. The most common causes of injuries in alpine sports are (too) high speed, but also collisions on crowded slopes and insufficient preparation for winter sports.

Muscle strength and conditioning

If you do sports all year round, you reduce the risk of getting injured while doing winter sports. At least you should start with ski gymnastics exercises in order to build up muscle strength, coordination and fitness a few weeks before your first ski trip. Before your first descent, we recommend a targeted warm-up to prepare your muscles and tendons for the unusual strain.

Weather and fatigue

Last but not least, you should of course also pay attention to the specific weather conditions on the mountain, as the risk of a fall increases if visibility is poor or there is blowing snow, for example. In higher altitude ski areas, the relative lack of oxygen and the dry air should not be underestimated, which, in combination with the physical strain, lead to quicker fatigue.

Take breaks and drink enough

Therefore, take regular breaks, make sure you drink enough fluids and, depending on your physical condition, end the day of skiing earlier than planned if necessary. For safe skiing pleasure, you should stop at the ski bar only after the last descent into the valley. You should definitely wear a helmet in order to significantly reduce sometimes fatal consequences of a fall on the head.

What you should do when you fall

If a fall does happen, the R.I.C.E rule should be observed:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

If symptoms persist or if you had a serious fall, you should consult a medical specialist.

Torn cruciate ligament and surgery

A quick diagnosis is particularly important when it comes to cruciate ligament injuries so that no time is lost if there is a possible indication for surgery. For athletic patients, cruciate ligament surgery should be performed without delay in order to keep the convalescence time as short as possible.

However, I often see patients in my practice who have been told, for example at the ski resort, that a torn cruciate ligament needs to be operated on within 24 hours, otherwise it could lead to massive problems in the knee and, in the worst case, the knee would become stiff. This is wrong and does not correlate with current scientific studies.

Current studies clearly show that cruciate ligament surgery within 7 to 10 days of the injury is possible and reasonable. If you feel pressured to have an acute operation, I would recommend making a quick appointment with a trusted doctor at home. The follow-up care by your surgeon can then be secured.


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