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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Snowboard Injuries

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In the most recent issue of the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, published by the Wilderness Medical Society, there is an article entitled "Skiing and Snowboarding Head Injuries in 2 Areas of the United States," authored by Mark Greve, MD and colleagues (Wilderness and Environmental Medicine 10:234-238, 2009). The objective of their research was to explore the use of helmets in skiers and snowboarders injured at ski runs and terrain parks in Colorado and the northeast U.S. and to examine differences in head injury severity in terrain parks as compared to ski runs. The study was done by reviewing emergency department records of injured skiers at nine medical facilities in Colorado, New York and Vermont. Eligible patients were skiers and snowboarders who sustained a head injury.

Most of the injuries occurred when the victim hit her or her head on the snow; fewer occurred when the skiers or boarders were involved in collisions with other skiers or fixed objects. Only 37.1% of the victims were wearing helmets. There were significantly fewer instances of loss of consciousness in fall events in the Colorado group; significantly lower incidence of loss of consciousness in fall events in helmet users who struck fixed objects; and a higher incidence of skiers colliding with fixed objects in the Northeast. Even when controlling for helmet use, there were significantly more head injuries in terrain parks.

What does this all mean? Obviously, the study sample is small, but the big takeaway for me is that helmet use makes sense. Why are there more injuries in terrain parks? Perhaps this represents the mechanics of falls when snowboarding, as opposed to skiing, or perhaps it indicates a higher degree of risk (for a head injury) with this sport, either because of the mechanics, degree of risk (e.g., aerial maneuvers, jumps, etc.), speed for the terrain, or propensity to hit a fixed object. It seems like helmet use is a very logical, and perhaps even necessary, way to prevent head injuries, certainly while snowboarding, and probably while skiing.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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