Medicine for the Outdoors
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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Snowboarding and Wrist Injuries


This post relates information learned in the most recent issue (Volume 22, Number 3, 2011) of the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, published by the Wilderness Medical Society.

In an article entitled “Snowboarding Injuries in Australia: Investigating Risk Factors in Wrist Fractures to Enhance Injury Prevention Strategies” by Tracey Dickson and Anne Terwiel, the authors set out to investigate risk factors associated with wrist fractures (“broken wrists”) in snowboarders in order to inform future snowsport safety strategies. As a former member of a “doctor patrol” at a busy ski area, I can attest to the fact that the advent of snowboarding has seemed to greatly increase the number of falling persons who sustain wrist fractures. It would be nice to make a dent in that number.  

In Dickson and Terwiel’s evaluation, a questionnaire was completed by persons who suffered a snowboard-related injury who sought care at certain medical centers or physiotherapy clinics in resort medical centers and gateway communities during the 2007 snowsport season in Australia. One might ask if anything has changed since that time. I’m not aware of any major technological or behavioral change that has occurred in snowboarding between 2007 and now.

Most of the injuries occurred on-piste, in a terrain park, or during a lesson. Of the 611 persons who reported 802 injuries protective equipment was worn by 57 percent. In the final analysis, the major risk factors for wrist fractures were being less than 16 years of age, being on holiday, and/or being a first-day snowboard participant. This sheds light, which is consistent with other evaluations of injury risk, on how best to try to prevent these injuries.

Wrist guards are felt to protect broken wrists. Anyone who snowboards should wear them, but some groups of people must wear guards: first-timers, inexperienced boarders, or those younger than 16 years of age. 

Why 16 years or younger? Perhaps they dominate the snowboarding population; perhaps they take greater risks; perhaps they are less likely to wear safety equipment. Regardless, these young bones contain growth plates that should not be injured, in order to protect normal growth and development. As is sometimes the case, there are people who believe that using safety equipment leads to injuries, either by creating a false sense of safety and thereby encouraging unsafe behavior, or by actually creating a mechanical disadvantage of some sort that leads to an injury caused by the device. Perhaps wrist guards could be made more comfortable or attractive. That might encourage their use. Given what we know about the potential morbidity and mortality of a fall in which the head strikes the ground or another object, wearing a helmet makes sense. Given what we know about the types of falls and frequency of wrist fractures, wearing wrist guards makes sense.

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Tags: Hot & Cold , Just for Kids , Products , Staying Safe

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