Sunday February 25, 1996

Snowboarding a downhill slide to arm, ankle injuries, says study

Snowboarding may be the hottest sport this winter, but increasing injury rates could make it one of the most dangerous.

Snowboarders' equipment as well as the rider's unusual stance and maneuvers were found to be the primary reasons for increased injuries, according to poster exhibit C 64 displayed Saturday by Mary A. Bos, MD, chief resident, department of orthopaedics, New York University Medical Center, New York, N.Y.

Dr. Bos found the injuries sustained by snowboarders are primarily the wrist and forearm (30 percent) and ankle (20 percent).

Snowboarders' unusual stance-both feet facing sideways in nonreleasable bindings-is one of the factors contributing to the injuries. "In this position, the only way for the snowboarder to fall is directly forward or backward onto their outstretched hands," said Dr. Bos.

"The rider can not reposition to break the fall, and the entire impact of the fall is absorbed by the outstretched hands."

The nonreleasable bindings also may be a leading cause of the ankle injuries, said Dr. Bos. "The force that normally allows a ski boot to release from its binding is absorbed by the ankle in a nonreleasable system."

The design of the boots worn by snowboarders also may contribute to the high rate of ankle injuries. "The soft-shelled boots worn by snowboarders allow a more free range of motion of the ankles than the hard-shelled boots worn by alpine skiers," said Dr. Bos. "There is less torsional force concentrated at the knee, but more hyperextention and hyperflexion forces across the ankle."

In the second part of the study, Dr. Bos analyzed the difference between injuries sustained by snowboarders and alpine skiers. Data gathered by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was used to compare both activities.

The CPSC recorded 26,367 snowboarding injuries in 1994. Alpine skiers sustained 139,964 injuries in 1994.

Dr. Bos found that alpine skiers are three times more likely to get a knee injury than snowboarders. But, snowboarders are twice as likely to get an ankle injury. Wrist and forearm fractures are more than four times as prevalent in snowboarders than skiers.

According to Dr. Bos, more than half of the snowboarding injuries required treatment by orthopaedic surgeons.

"Most of these injuries are caused by the equipment, the position in which the boots are bound to the board, and the extreme maneuvers of the rider," said Dr. Bos. "New snowboarders should be properly instructed about safety, and manufacturers should begin to develop safer equipment."

Snowboarding is a relatively new winter sport in which participants slalom down a ski slope on a board that resembles a skateboard without wheels. More than three million people participated in the sport of snowboarding in 1994.

Co-author of the study with Dr. Bos is Frank B. Giacobetti, MD, orthopaedic resident, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia.

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