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Skier on chairlift looking down over skis at snowy trees and chairlift shadows on the snow.

Scenarios and Treatments for Winter Sports Injuries

As we gear up for outdoor winter activities, the potential for sports-related injuries stacks up. Here are some common winter injuries and different treatment plans to consider.

1. The Angry Left Knee
Kate Skate, a 45-year-old outdoor enthusiast, begins a rigorous ski training plan during the first snowfall. After her third day skiing, she discovers stiffness and pain on the outside of her left knee when using stairs. The diagnosis: iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS).

What is it?   
The iliotibial (IT) band, a long fibrous structure, extends from a muscle in the front of the hip to the outside of the knee. If there is decreased flexibility and/or repetitive friction between the IT band and the bone underneath it, inflammation and pain can develop.

Treatment Plan
After a thorough exam and ultrasound evaluation to confirm diagnosis, a sports medicine physician creates a treatment plan. With ultrasound guidance, cortisone is injected between the IT band and the bone where the friction occurs. A physical therapy plan is developed and orthotics prescribed. Engaging in yoga and swimming can help maintain cardiovascular fitness during recovery.

2. The Agonizing Hip
Monte Mogul eagerly tries out his new downhill skis. He begins developing sharp right groin pain every time he makes nonstop bump runs. He also experiences a deep ache sitting on the chairlift. After X-rays, he is diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip joint.

What is it?  
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip or another joint is a degenerative process in which the joint surfaces roughen and lose their protective coating (cartilage). Pain occurs with movement. In the hip, it is often felt across the groin front or into the buttock and occasionally the front or back of the thigh.  

Treatment Plan  
Past trauma to the joint increases the likelihood of OA. Activities should be modified to include non-weight bearing sports, such as cycling and swimming. A hip and core physical therapy program works well. Also, therapeutic ultrasound-guided injections, including viscosupplements or platelet-rich plasma (PRP), can provide a protective lubricant and cushion for the joint. PRP is an innovative regenerative medicine treatment in which a patient’s platelet cells are injected into the injured area to assist the healing process.

3. A Pain in the Back
An overnight snowstorm forces Joe Snow to dig out his driveway. He shovels quickly and halfway through feels a familiar sharp pain in the middle of his lower back. Driving to work, he notices burning and numbness down the outside of his leg. After a physician exam and MRI, he is diagnosed with lumbar radiculopathy.

What is it? 
Lumbar radiculopathy is an irritation to or pinching of a nerve near the spine. Often this nerve irritation is caused by an injury of the lumbar discs, cushions between the bones in the spine. The discs can slip out of place and press on a nerve. This causes pain or numbness in the leg.

Treatment Plan  
Pain can improve with time and physical therapy. If significant weakness in the leg develops, surgery may be required. Another option is an epidural, a cortisone injection into the spinal canal. A specially trained doctor does this with X-ray (fluoroscopy) guidance.

* These three case scenarios represent common injuries that can occur year-round. Consult a physician for diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Alison Ganong is a board-certified Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physician at the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness who specializes in interventional sports medicine and spine care. To make an appointment with Dr. Ganong, call 530.543.5554.