Protect your wrists and hands during winter sports and icy weather

December 18, 2023 Christopher Hein, M.D.

[4 min read]

In this article: 

  • Specific types of injuries to the arms and thumbs are associated with winter sports like snowboarding and skiing. 
  • It's a good idea to seek medical care if swelling is severe or you experience loss of motion in an injured finger, hand or wrist. 
  • Most broken fingers and wrists, as well as ligament injuries, can be treated without surgery. 

Around Thanksgiving, friendly football games lead to plenty of new hand injuries. Jammed fingers and sprains from tugging jerseys predominate on the amateur gridiron. As the weather cools, soggy grass gives way to frozen tundra. Special care should be taken when there is the possibility of ice. Slips and falls will commonly lead to wrist injuries. These can range from sprains to broken bones.

Winter sports like snowboarding and skiing also present unique opportunities to fall. As the arm is used to soften the fall at high speeds, the chance of breaking a bone increases. Also, certain thumb positions when falling can lead to ligamentous injuries at the base of the thumb. This is known as a skier's thumb. These can be difficult to diagnose, because x-rays are oftentimes normal but can lead to long-term disability if not treated acutely. If you fall on the slopes, and think something might be broken, it's a good idea to get it checked out.

Foundations of treatment for upper extremity injuries initially include immobilization, rest, anti-inflammatories and elevation. Immobilizing the affected extremity will decrease swelling and discomfort. Anti-inflammatories will lessen the discomfort associated with the trauma. Elevation will also help in preventing significant swelling which will decrease discomfort and improve function.

It's a good idea to seek medical care if the swelling is severe, or you experience loss of motion of the finger or the wrist. It's also a good idea to seek medical attention if your injury is associated with an obvious deformation of the finger or the wrist or if there is numbness or tingling associated with an injury. A medical professional can advise you whether a referral to a specialist is a good idea.

Much of the time, broken fingers, broken wrists and ligament injuries are treated without surgery, but sometimes surgery is recommended to restore function and maintain range of motion and strength. When this happens, oftentimes a hand therapist is involved to help guide recovery and promote earlier return to function. And therapists use heat, selective immobilization, tactile techniques and other modalities to prevent stiffness and aid functional recovery.

Stay safe this holiday season by protecting those hands and wrists during the winter sports. Sometimes, a brace can help prevent a severe injury, but also tucking and rolling will decrease the force across the wrist which may limit the chance of fracture. And if you do not have to go outside in an icy weather, stay inside and be safe!

Dr. Hein is a hand specialist at Providence Swedish Orthopedics.

Learn more and find a provider

Do you or a loved one need to consult about a spine or orthopedic surgery or a joint replacement? Experts at the Swedish Orthopedic Institute (SOI) can help. Providence Swedish Orthopedics, located on the sixth floor of SOI, is now accepting new patients and referrals. To learn more the clinic, download this flyer

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. For urgent, walk-in or after-hours care, visit one of Swedish Urgent Care facilities. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Providence Swedish Orthopedics opens at First Hill

A new shoulder helped this athlete continue his decades-long winning streak

Gym rat or weekend warrior? Here’s some advice for sports injury prevention.

That twinge is telling you something. Don’t ignore back pain.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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