Health experts recommend wearing good helmets, knowing limits before trying Winter Olympic-inspired stunts

By V. Hauschild, Army Public Health Center - Clinical Public Health and Epidemiology DirectorateFebruary 14, 2022

Health experts recommend wearing good helmets, knowing limits before trying Winter Olympic-inspired stunts
According to the Department of Defense TBI Center for Excellence, concussions make up more than 80 percent of all Traumatic Brain Injuries in the military population. In addition to wearing proper safety gear such as helmets, extreme cold weather jackets, gloves and boots, service members and their families who participate in winter recreational activities such as snowmobiling, snowboarding and skiing can reduce the risk of injury by staying hydrated, stretching properly and recognizing their skill level. (U.S. Army graphic illustration by Graham Snodgrass) (Photo Credit: Graham Snodgrass) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The 2022 Winter Olympics offer a number of televised events that often amaze viewers as they watch the impressive athletic feats in a number of winter sports, including skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice hockey, and ice skating.

Not only can the games be extremely exciting to watch, but they may even motivate many individuals to get outdoors to enjoy some fresh air and exercise.

As you venture outdoors for some winter sporting fun, here are a few cautionary reminders to help you stay safe and continue enjoying winter activities for many years to come.

Every year winter activities in the United States result in hundreds of thousands of injuries as well as many deaths. While professional athletes can sustain injuries while participating in their sports, many more amateurs and recreational sports enthusiasts are at greater risk when trying to perform skills beyond their capabilities. So please don’t get carried away when fantasizing about or attempting a cool new stunt.

Of particular concern, winter sports injuries often involve head trauma, including mild to severe traumatic brain injuries. As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is an injury that affects how the brain works.

Most common are mild TBIs, also known as concussions. After a concussion victims typically feel dazed, confused or disoriented. They may even briefly experience a loss of consciousness. Symptoms such as dizziness and memory loss typically last less than 24 hours. Other symptoms such as visual acuity, neck pain, headaches, and sleep or mood disorders may last for days or weeks.

According to the Department of Defense TBI Center for Excellence, concussions make up more than 80 percent of all TBIs in the military population. Only about eight percent of these are combat-related.

The TBICOE says service members can sustain a TBI during day-to-day activities, such as while playing sports or participating in recreational events. Most commonly these result from falls. A past study of fall-related injuries in the active duty Army showed that snowboarding and skiing were the leading sports causing such injuries.

Most service members who sustain a mild TBI return to full duty within 10 to 14 days through rest and a progressive return to activity process where individuals gradually return to normal activity using a standardized, staged-approach. During this time, they may need assistance adjusting to various physical, mental and emotional health consequences of their injuries.

Reducing your chance of injury

Though there are risks, winter sports can be a fun and beneficial way to exercise. It is important to protect your head during these activities by observing these practices:

  • Wear a properly fitted helmet that is certified for the sport you are going to enjoy – the CDC provides tips for selecting the best helmet.
  • Wear other appropriate clothing/equipment such as goggles and boots, and check that equipment works before each use (test your board or ski bindings, ensure proper fit for skiing and skating boots) to avoid trip hazards.
  • Know your level of experience and:
  • o    Seek proper training or certifications before taking on more difficult challenges.
  • o    Practice more complicated techniques under safe conditions.
  • Familiarize yourself with surroundings before skiing or snowboarding and:
  • o Know the terrain and any obstacles to avoid.
  • o    Use official designated groomed and patrolled trails and sports areas as opposed to 'backyard' private lands.
  • o    Start slow and easy at new locations until terrain is familiar.
  • o    Be wary of poor trail design or unknown, unmaintained areas.
  • o    Be aware that even some maintained slopes or trails may have "black spots," areas known for conditions that have resulted in repeated or high numbers of injuries - merging slopes, narrowing or sharp turning trail and poor grooming.
  • Condition your body and do exercises to increase your lower body stability control:
  • o    When: If new to a sport, at the start of the season, or before trying new techniques or equipment.
  • o    What: Try squats and lunges for lower body strength; stability balls and wobble boards for balance; and shuttle drills for side-to-side agility.
  • o    How: Slowly progress in level of intensity and time and ensure rest breaks.

And always have a phone or radio with you to contact help when you’re on trails while snowboarding or skiing. In the event that you hit your head or get hit in the head, it is important to have it checked out right away since delayed medical care can lead to longer term health consequences.

Follow these suggestions to safely enjoy the fun and excitement of YOUR winter games!

The Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury and disability of Soldiers, military retirees, their families, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.