Our guide to injury prevention in the cold weather

The onset of the Winter Olympics 2014 has got me thinking about this chilly season. Winter often brings with it poor travel conditions, freezing weather and the promise of winter sports for those of us who like to ski or snowboard. Last winter was a long one with icy and cold conditions lasting ‘til March. Often the cold weather can aggravate conditions such as arthritis as well as slippery conditions increasing the risk of injury. So here are a few of my top tips for minimising your risk of pain and injury:

  • Stay active – Try and keep moving as much as possible during the cold months to prevent that stiff feeling, particularly in your knees. Regular movement will help to lubricate and nourish your joints! If you’re heading out into the cold air for a jog, break a light sweat first then stretch to help maintain mobility and reduce the risk of injury. In times of cold weather aim to wear full length running leggings (with reflector strips if it’s dark!) for your run or cycle to keep your muscles warm and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Wrap up warm – A scarf and a woolly hat are winter essentials to prevent both neck and back pain, often caused by tensing in the chill. If you’re a seasonal sufferer of chilblains in your hands and feet, always have a pair of mittens to hand (they’re better at keeping your circulation flowing compared to gloves), and allow your feet to breathe when you leave the outside and enter a warm room.
  • Avoid slips and trips – I commonly see men and women with injuries caused by falling, during the cold winter months. Often, particularly for women, these injuries have been caused by wearing inappropriate footwear. Slips on icy surfaces can cause more serious accidents such as fractures and sprains.

For those of you with more adrenaline-fuelled plans in the pipeline this winter, here are some tips to bear in mind pre and post winter sports: Preparation

  • Hit the gym for strength and conditioning, such as squats and lunges, as well as interval training on the cross-trainer and step machine for a month in the lead up to toughen up your legs and core.
  • Good quality equipment is vital – if you’re a regular on the slopes, invest in your own boots to give you individual, fitted support. If you’re new, ensure your hired boots fit you comfortably. Don’t be shy if you feel the ones you have aren’t right – swap them if they’re causing you to blister or cramp.

Prevention

  • If you have a vulnerable joint, buy an effective support to give it the structure it needs. For advice, see a physiotherapist or alternatively someone in the shop should be able to assist you.
  • Make sure you do an active warm up of a couple of warm ups runs. Start with some light exercises, before heading to more difficult slopes. Remember that cooling down is just as important as warming up.
  • Get to know the mountain, such as trees, rocks, and ice patches so they can be avoided. Stay on marked trails and be aware of slippery surfaces in the town.
  • If you’re tired take a break – you are most likely to injure yourself when you’re tired.
  • Wear a helmet! They may not be the greatest fashion accessory, but wearing a helmet could save you from a very serious injury. If you’re snowboarding make sure you also wear wrist and knee guards.
  • Should you be unlucky enough to return with a niggling pain or injury please do seek the advice of a physiotherapist. If you are unsure whether physiotherapy is the right course of action for you, why not visit our ‘Ask A Physio’ form? You can submit your question to our triage team for free advice within one working day.

About the author Simon Cabot has been a physiotherapist for almost 15 years and works onsite at the Nuffield Health Canary Wharf medical centre. He has a broad skill set including CBT, Sports rehab, and numerous manual therapy techniques.