Winter Sports: The Risk of Hand and Wrist Injuries

hand and wrist injuries with winter sportsHand, wrist, and finger injuries are among the most common injuries that occur while skiing. The speed of movement and unpredictability of the environment means skiing is a potentially dangerous sport. Most of the time, an individual loses control either from travelling too fast for the prevailing conditions or travelling on a slope inappropriate to their ability level. A violent fall or even bending the arm awkwardly can cause sprains, ligament injuries and fractures. We spoke with Dr. Davide Smarrelli, Head of Hand Surgery at Humanitas Gavazzeni in Bergamo, about the risks associated with skiing. 

Alpine skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing: do types of injuries depend on the type of winter sport in question? 

“Yes, injuries are mostly related to the type of winter sport you are participating. Snowboarders are more prone to fractures because they fall directly on their knees and use their hands to stop their fall. Skiers, on the other hand, use their hands to hold their poles and guide their path. They are more likely to suffer ligament injuries as a result of their many twists and turns with skis and poles. Cross-country skiers fall somewhere in the middle: they also use skis and poles; however, they move at a lower speed. Cross-country skiers sustain injuries similar to those of snowboarders and use immediate support with their hands.”

What are the most common hand, wrist and finger injuries that skiers obtain?

“In regards to the hands and wrists, the most common injuries sustained are as follows: fractured wrist, metacarpal fractures, phalangeal fractures, as well as skier’s thumb injury – injury to the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb. It is a very common injury that is also sometimes called “Stener lesion”. When a skier falls with a pole in their hand, the pole’s handle may act as a fulcrum applying force across the joint and thereby putting the ligament under strain. A Stener lesion may also be associated with a hairline fracture that occurs at the point where it attaches to the ligament.”

What can we do to prevent hand and wrist injuries while skiing?

“We must respect certain rules while skiing. Although they may seem obvious, it is important that they are not overlooked. Firstly, you must perform ski conditioning workouts. Don’t forget that throughout the year, we tend to participate in other activities apart from skiing. Like all other sports, specific training exercises are required. Secondly, you must choose a ski center that has slopes suitable to your technical capacities as well as to your physical level.

Finally, it is vital to check ski equipment you have used in recent years and ensure that all the equipment fits properly. Nowadays, ski equipment has become increasingly technical and reliable. Helmets and gloves are a must and in addition to keeping you warm, they help prevent trauma injuries. If you are planning on alpine skiing, you should consider the latest ski pole models with an automatic release outlet. They are designed to help you release your hand at the right time and help you avoid the dangerous twists that can lead to “Stener lesion”.

Want to know more? Read also “Ways to prevent injuries from skiing and snowboarding“.


Humanitas is a highly specialized Hospital, Research and Teaching Center. Built around centers for the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disease – together with an Ophthalmic Center and a Fertility Center – Humanitas also operates a highly specialised Emergency Department.