Winter is rapidly approaching, and for many Coloradans, that means winter sports are right around the corner, too. As you prepare for another season of skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and sledding, it’s important to take steps to protect your joints. Dr. Dennis Chang, an orthopedic surgeon at Denver Center for Joint Replacement, explains the importance of joint health for winter sports.

Q: Why do winter sports make people more susceptible to injury?

A: Any strenuous activity can put you at a higher risk for injury. Sports injuries are among the most common ones we see at the Denver Center for Joint Replacement. And winter sports can mean a higher risk, especially for “weekend warriors” who ski on Saturday and Sunday but are less active for most of the week.

Q: What types of winter sports injuries are most common?

A: The most common winter sports injuries affect the knees, but we also see hip, shoulder, elbow and spine injuries. For skiers, we most commonly see ACL injuries, but we also often see fractures and broken bones, pulled muscles, torn ligaments and dislocated joints as a result of winter sports. Accidents happen, but many of these injuries are preventable with the proper precautions.

Q: What can people do to protect their joints?

A: The best way to prevent a winter sports injury is to be prepared. Stretch and warm up your muscles before you get started, and exercise to get in shape before the season starts. Always wear protective gear like helmets, pads and braces, especially if you’ve had a previous injury. And know your limits – don’t challenge yourself too much or take unnecessary risks.

Q: How can someone tell the difference between a minor injury and one that requires a doctor’s attention?

A: Each person responds to injury differently, so it’s important to know yourself and follow your instincts. But if you’re experiencing extreme pain, significant swelling or instability, you should schedule an appointment with an orthopedic specialist.

Another way to decide whether to make an appointment is based on recovery time. If you recover within a couple weeks, it’s usually safe to return to activity. If you thought it was a minor injury, but it’s been more than two weeks and you haven’t made a full recovery, you should see a doctor

Q: Are people with previous joint injuries at higher risk?

A: If you have a previous joint injury that hasn’t properly healed, you’re at a higher risk for injury. Strenuous activity on a poorly healed joint can aggravate the injury and lead to longterm damage.

Q: After being treated for a joint injury, can I return to winter sports?

A: There’s a big misconception that after a serious joint injury, you’ll never be able to return to skiing or snowboarding. Even after a major surgery for a torn ACL or a knee replacement, most patients can return to being active. It’s important to give yourself plenty of time to heal and recover from the injury, and always consult your orthopedic specialist before getting back on the slopes.

Dennis Chang, MD, received his medical degree from Rush Medical College in Chicago and completed specialized training in orthopedic surgery and complete total reconstruction. He’s passionate about providing innovative orthopedic treatment to return his patients to their active lifestyle. Dr. Chang practices at the Denver Center for Joint Replacement, an orthopedic surgery practice dedicated to treating a range of orthopedic conditions with a focus on hip and knee replacements.