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Originally published Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 5:10 AM

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Ski prep: Don’t let the slopes conquer you

Don’t end up on the sidelines this winter. Dr. Chris Maeda offers advice on how to prevent ski and snowboard injuries.

Special to The Times

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Snow in the Cascades has been slow in coming this year, but the snow-sports season — such as it is — has started. With the first few storms and the Winter Olympics right around the corner to entice snow-sport enthusiasts, skiers and snowboarders are out on the slopes.

But before you strap the skis to the car, you should take some precautions to avoid injuries.

Skiers and snowboarders especially are prone to injuries, and for skiers the most common are knee injuries, concussions and other head injuries.

Snowboarders tend to have fewer injuries to their knees than skiers, but they are more prone to hand, wrist and upper-arm injuries as well as head injuries.

One of the best ways to avoid injury is proper preseason conditioning. Preparing your body for the physical strains that come with skiing and snowboarding is critical. When you start to get tired is when injuries are most likely to occur.

Even if you haven’t been training, there is still time to build up strength and flexibility to minimize your injury risk. The best exercises are those that mimic the motion of skiing or snowboarding and those that focus on the core and legs.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

• Barbell squats;

Plyometrics, or jump-training;

• Lunges;

• Yoga or other flexibility and balance training;

• Core strengthening.

It’s also important to build up your endurance so you are prepared to spend a full day out on the slopes.

Most people work out at a moderate level for 30 minutes or maybe an hour. But a full day of skiing or snowboarding can be six hours or longer.

So when you finally get outside, be sure to take it easy your first couple of days and take plenty of breaks.

If you are rusty and haven’t skied or snowboarded in a few years, think about taking a lesson. A skilled instructor can help you work on your technique to avoid injury.

Another important way to prevent injury is having the right gear.

Helmets have become much more popular among skiers and snowboarders in the past several years and are key to helping prevent head injury.

However, keep in mind that while helmets may decrease the severity of a head injury, they will not protect you entirely. Skiers and snowboarders can still get concussions while wearing helmets.

Concussions are caused by the brain hitting the inside of the skull, usually due to a forceful impact to the head. Helmets are a critical piece of equipment, but they do not make you invincible.

In addition to helmets, snowboarders may benefit from wrist guards to prevent wrist injuries.

If you do get hurt while skiing or snowboarding, it may be hard to tell if you should visit your doctor or not. Here are some things to keep in mind:

RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is a good first response to most sports injuries. If the injury is still painful after 24 to 48 hours, you should see your doctor.

If you are injured and feel you cannot continue skiing or snowboarding that day, that’s also a good indicator you should see your doctor.

For head injuries, the symptoms of a concussion can be subtle. If you or anyone in your party takes any significant impact to the head, even while wearing a helmet, be on the lookout for signs of a concussion. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it’s a good idea to see a doctor:

• Difficulty concentrating;

• Headache;

• Blurry vision;

• Nausea or vomiting;

• Sensitivity to noise or light;

• Balance problems;

• Irritability.

Before you head up to the mountains this winter, be sure to prepare with the proper equipment and physical conditioning. By knowing the signs of serious injuries, taking precautions and making sure you’re in shape, you can avoid accidents and have an enjoyable experience.

Dr. Chris Maeda practices sports medicine at Pacific Medical Centers’ Beacon Hill, Canyon Park, Northgate and Renton clinics. After earning his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, he completed his residency at the University of Washington.

Pacific Medical Centers is a private, not-for-profit, multispecialty health-care network of nine clinics in Beacon Hill, Canyon Park, Federal Way, First Hill, Lynnwood, Northgate, Puyallup, Renton and Totem Lake.

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