January 12, 2022

Keeping heads safe during winter activities

Two kids sitting on the ground behind skis and snowboards, wearing helmets

Everyone should wear a helmet when they go sledding, skiing, snowboard and even ice skating.

“Wisconsin winters can be fun especially when families participate in time-honored outdoor traditions. These traditions can be safer when proper precautions are taken,” said Rishelle Eithun, pediatric injury prevention manager at UW Health Kids.

While many winter sports-related injuries are broken bones or bumps and bruises, many children have life-threatening injuries each year.

“There can be life-changing and tragically life-ending injuries from sledding crashes,” said Eithun. "The speeds at which you travel down the hill are often like speeds of bicycles or even slow-moving traffic. When you hit a fixed object at those speeds, the body takes a tremendous amount of force."

UW Health hospitals have seen children and adults who need emergent surgery to treat head injuries and patients with internal bleeding from organ damage due to winter sports injuries.

According to a study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, nearly 82 percent of children treated for a sledding-related injury suffered an injury to the head.

How to keep winter activities fun and safe

So, what should be done to make a child's winter activity fun while reducing the possibility of an injury?

"Everyone should wear a properly fitted helmet," said Eithun. For the helmet to fit properly, it should make good contact around the entire head.

The UW Health Kids Safety Center at American Family Children’s Hospital, offers helmets and other protective equipment for children and adults.

A combination ski/snowboard helmet can offer the best protection for winter sports. It's designed to protect the entire skull, absorbing energy from an impact, and keeping it from being transmitted to the brain. These helmets also protect the ears and provide warmth in the winter.

Aside from using helmets, winter sports enthusiasts can take other steps to avoid a trip to the hospital. For example, children under 12 should have adult supervision. Also, adults and children should know the surroundings, always being mindful of rocks, trees and other people.

Note: This article was originally published Dec. 18, 2019 and has been updated.