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Staying Injury-Free This Winter

-- The first snow brings with it visions of skating, skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports activities. "It's easy to rush out to embrace these sports before you're physically ready," says Dr. Franklin Kase, DPM, and vice president of the California Podiatric Medical Association (CPMA).

However this enthusiasm can lead to injuries if you aren't mentally and physically prepared for winter conditions.

The CPMA suggests the following tips to help you prepare for and remain injury-free this winter:

— Exercise year-round. This helps adjust your body to the strenuous movements winter sports require. If your body is not in good shape, start with a conditioning routine. Jogging, walking, weight lifting, blading, biking and aerobics are good preparations.

— Stretch beforehand. On the day you're heading for the great outdoors, stretching exercises should be done before each activity. Hold each stretch for at least 10 seconds and do not bounce while stretching.

— Get equipment that fits. If you're a skier, pay careful attention to how your ski boots fit. According to the CPMA, this is one of the most important pieces of equipment that will help you stay injury-free.

— Use the proper equipment for your size and skill level. For skiers, buy the best bindings you can afford. Ski bindings that do not properly release during falls are the leading cause of severe lower-extremity skiing injuries.

— Learn before you leap. Snowboarding, which is becoming the fastest growing winter sport in the United States, entails a high risk of injury, especially for people who do not learn about proper techniques and equipment. If you're a beginner, take a few lessons to help minimize injury.

— Be alert. In extremely cold weather, the feet, which are furthest from the heart, often lack sufficient blood flow to stay warm. Over-exposure to the cold causes the blood vessels in the feet to constrict, which can lead to frostbite. Symptoms include the skin changing color to blue — then to whitish — and then the feet feeling like they are burning or numb. To avoid blood vessel constriction, podiatric physicians recommend avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, prolonged exposure to wetness and extreme cold and tight-fitting footgear.

— Warm up. Even skiers and snowboarders who consider themselves experienced should start with a warm-up on a lower-level slope before hitting the steep slopes.

Don't overdo it: "The bottom line," says Kase, "is to prepare, pay attention to conditions and listen to what your body is telling you, and you'll be on your way to a safer, healthier winter season."

Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing

© 2000 Health Resources Publishing