Snowboard Injury: Prevention & Performance

Over the past few decades, the sport of snowboarding has quickly become one of the fastest evolving and most popular sports of the winter season. The impressive combination of power, velocity, and technique make this activity appealing to both recreational riders and high-level competitors. As with any athletic endeavor, there is an element of risk and potential for injury. But did you know injury patterns of snowboarders vary based on skill level? While the general snowboarding population sees more upper extremity injuries, the elite-level group exhibits higher injury rates involving the lower extremity.

So how do these injuries occur? In the novice community, wrist sprains, fractures, lacerations, and contusions constitute a majority of the mountain trauma. Beginners (first 5 days on a board) and those renting boards are more prone to injury (Engebretsen et al). While collisions are rare in snowboarding, they do occur, making head injuries and concussions frequent pathologies. So how do we stop this from happening? Preventative measures, such as using wrist guards and a helmet, have proven to be effective (Engebretsen et al). It is also important to learn proper falling technique in order to mitigate injury, such as using your forearms to break your fall and keeping your hands in a fist position.

In more elite-level riders, the lower extremities are at risk. High-severity lower extremity injuries, particularly affecting the knee joint, constitute these common patterns (Hackett et al). With a knee injury rate parallel to that of alpine skiers, snowboarders typically encounter damage to structures like the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament). A difference in mechanism of injury most likely explains this occurrence. For instance, more experienced riders are landing from higher amplitude jumps, racing at increased speeds, and enduring larger impact forces. While lower extremity injuries at the elite level are more difficult to prevent, evaluating the biomechanical aspects of these injury mechanisms can prove extremely beneficial in the role of mitigation. Of interest, when comparing injuries in terrain parks to those on ski slopes, snowboarders were more likely to sustain fractures or concussions in the terrain park (Rivara et al).

By understanding anatomical elements of the body, identifying musculoskeletal imbalances, and designing appropriate exercise programs, we can help prevent injury on the mountain, while also correcting poor habits that may be placing the rider at risk.

Injury Prevention

Injuries may be multi-factorial and may be due to lack of physical fitness, inadequate skill, poor trail or park conditions, collisions or improper equipment (Brugger et al). This article focuses on how riders can optimize their physical fitness to prevent the more common injuries.

Tschana Schiller, strength and conditioning coordinator for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team at the Center of Excellence training facility in Park City, Utah, trains elite and Olympic-level riders and recommends a variety of full body, multi-joint pushing and pulling exercises. “These athletes need to be strong in large ranges of motion. Not only do they need to be powerful and produce force, but probably equally or more important is their ability to arrest force.” Tschana relies on a mix of eccentric and concentric movements, and while the athletes practice appropriate landing mechanics, they may also be put in situations where they must maintain control when their body is pulled off axis. “We utilize exercises such as: squats, deadlifts and hex bar deadlifts, multi-direction lunges, step ups, plyometrics, Olympic lifts and variations, pull ups, push-ups, and exercises that train the torso to resist rotation or collapse as well as accommodate forceful rotations.” Further, balance and proprioception are incorporated whenever possible to create a more dynamic environment. Of note, the hip and gluteal muscles tend to be neglected in favor of the quadriceps. Hip, glute and core strength are the key to a strong foundation for riders. Weakness in the hips may result in the collapse of the knees toward midline and increase the risk of ligamentous injury.

The average, non-competitive rider should also implement multi-planar, full body movements into their conditioning regimen. Once a good foundation of strength is demonstrated through proper form, dynamic movements that require you to create force or resist force rapidly are encouraged. Basic exercises, such as a squat, should be built upon as the athlete’s strength and power progress. For example, add velocity and complexity with high speed repetitions, ball tosses and unstable surfaces.

With regard to flexibility, riders are encouraged to maintain a short sequence of yoga inspired movements and holds. Tschana recommends a series that includes “hip openers, thoracic spine rotations, and shoulder mobility.” These athletes also spend time on self massage, foam rolling, and often incorporate a light aerobic warm down.

Elite snowboard athletes spend 3-6 days a week in the gym or outdoors training with activities such as mountain biking, skating or climbing. These riders often incorporate two sessions per day from the months of May through November, leading up to competition months. While in-season, maintenance workouts occur one to three times per week. The average weekend rider should also begin training in the summer months, with the frequency of training tailored to their expected terrain difficulty and level of expertise.

Bridge Progression (Repeat 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions)

  1. Basic bridge: begin lying supine with arms relaxed at the side with knees bent and feet planted hip width apart. Draw the belly button down toward the spine, tighten the abdominals, then lift the torso toward the sky. Maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the knees, hold 5 seconds, then lower to the starting position.
  2. Unstable bridge: place the feet on a foam pad or other unstable surface.
  3. Ball bridge: begin lying supine with arms relaxed at the side with knees straight and heels on a balance call. Draw the belly button down toward the spine, tighten the abdominals, then lift the torso toward the sky. Maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the ankles, hold 5 seconds, then lower to the starting position.

Squat Progression (Repeat 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions)

  1. Basic squat: begin with feet hip width apart and lower down until the knees are bent to 90 degrees while maintaining an upright torso. Add dumbbells as appropriate.
  2. Ball toss squat: add a weighted ball toss with the athlete returning the toss as they rise out of the squat position and while they lower down (different forces will be experienced).
  3. Balance Board hold (Image 1): begin with feet hip width apart and maintain a slight flex in the knees with an upright torso.
  4. Balance Board squat (Image 2): add a squat while balancing on the board.
  5. Balance Board lateral toss: add a ball toss while standing next to the athlete (encourage core rotation).
  6. Balance Board grabs (Image 3): lower the squat beyond 90 degrees while maintaining an upright torso and practice gripping the board at different points (between the feet, on the diagonals, on the sides and behind)

Lateral Squats Progression (Repeat 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions, alternate sides)

  1. Basic lateral squat: begin with feet hip width apart, step either leg out to the side with toes pointing forward, then lower down until the knees are bent to 90 degrees. Maintain an upright torso and add dumbbells as appropriate.
  2. Ankle resistance band lateral squat: place resistance band around the ankles and perform as above.
  3. Torso resistance band lateral squat: place a thick resistance band around the athlete’s ankles and resist their lateral movement as they squat away from you.

Plank Progression (Repeat 3 sets of 20 second holds or 10-12 repetitions)

  1. Basic plank: begin in the push-up position with shoulders relaxed and the scapula drawn back and down; hold for 20 seconds, rest and repeat.
  2. Plank on Balance Board: perform as above with the palms placed firmly under the shoulders on the Balance Board; hold for 20 seconds, rest and repeat.
  3. Push-up on Balance Board (Image 4): lower the chest toward the board while maintain a straight torso; repeat for 1-12 repetitions, rest and repeat.
  4. Leg lifts on Balance Board (Image 5): maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the heels while alternating hip extensions; repeat for 10-12 repetitions, rest and repeat.
  5. Mountain climbers on Balance Board: maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the heels while alternating controlled knees toward the chest; repeat for 10-12 repetitions, rest and repeat.

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