Ski trip injury first aid

Injuring yourself on the mountain can be a scary and frustrating time. Nuffield Health Senior Physiotherapist Andrew Letheren offers some sage advice for what to do if you take a tumble on the slopes.

According to the most recent data available 0.8 percent of British snowsports participants will suffer an injury on the slopes. The most common injuries for skiers are to their legs, usually if bindings don’t release properly. The most common injuries for snowboarders are to arms, as boarders reach forwards or backwards to protect themselves when they skid.

Nobody heads to Chamonix, Val Thorens or Whistler with injury in mind, but it’s good to know what to do if an accident occurs on the slopes.

If you’ve sustained what you think is a soft tissue injury (i.e. not a broken bone) it’s advisable to rest, ice, compress and elevate (RICE) the injured limb.

Rest – If you’ve injured your leg, take your weight off it and avoid continued movement. If it’s your arm, avoid lifting anything and try to keep it still. You can progressively and gently start to load the area after the acute phase of injury. As a rough guide this is after 48-72 hours, but this depends on injury location, severity and pain.

Ice – The use of ice, even for as little as five minutes, can have a marked effect on pain. You’re on the slopes, there’s plenty of it around, but create an ice pack rather than placing ice directly onto your skin, which can burn. Typically no individual body area will require continued ice application for greater then 20-30 minutes. Reapplication of ice should be guided by pain and discomfort.

Compress – Wrapping your injured area with an elastic bandage, for example, can help decrease swelling. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly though, because this can cut off circulation to the area below the bandage and cause further swelling.

Elevate – Finally elevate the affected area in line with or above your heart level. This will also help to reduce the swelling. There is no rule on the length of required time; however the more distal (furthest away from your trunk) body areas are likely to require longer periods of time.

If you suspect that your injury is a break, or if you are in a lot of pain, seek immediate medical attention. It can be tempting to stay in the après-ski with your friends or to continue having fun on the slopes, but your injury could get worse or you could do yourself more harm than good. Have a friend help you safely down the mountain and seek medical help. If you're still in pain after returning from your trip, a couple of sessions with a physiotherapist could help get you moving comfortably again.

Last updated Friday 3 January 2020

First published on Monday 9 November 2015