The number of skiers and snowboarders suffering head and spinal cord injuries is on the rise internationally — probably the result of greater risk-taking on the slopes, according to researchers.
In a review of data on these injuries from 10 countries, Canadian researchers found increasing rates of brain and spinal cord injuries among skiers and snowboarders between 1990 and 2004.
These injuries account for a relatively small proportion of all injuries on the slopes; head trauma constitutes anywhere from 3 percent to 15 percent of all injuries, depending on the study, while spinal cord trauma accounts for an estimated 2 percent to 4 percent of injuries. Still, these injuries can be devastating or even fatal, the researchers note in a report published in the journal Injury Prevention.
They conclude that their findings highlight the need for better prevention efforts — particularly when it comes to young male snowboarders, who appear to be at greatest risk of fatal head injuries.
A key step is to always wear a helmet, according to Dr. Charles H. Tator of the University of Toronto in Ontario, the senior researcher on the study.
"Even those highly skilled can lose control," he told Reuters Health, "and therefore every skier (and) boarder, no matter at what level of skill or age, should wear a helmet."
The researchers based their findings on 24 studies from 10 countries, including the U.S., Canada and Japan. Across countries, there was evidence of a rising trend in traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord trauma.
These increases have come at a time when more and more skiers and boarders are trying to "catch air," turn somersaults and otherwise lose contact with the ground, Tator and his colleagues point out.
Tator said such risk-taking is likely a driving force behind these injuries. Several studies his team reviewed showed that snowboarders were at greater risk than skiers, and young males were sustaining a large share of the injuries.
Besides always donning a helmet, skiers and snowboarders should also stay focused, Tator advised, since a lapse in concentration can cause them to "wipe out" even on a flat run.
But the best move may be to keep your feet on the ground — especially if you are not highly skilled. "Stay on the snow," he advised.