From the Frontlines: FebruaryFeb 21, 2014
Lots of ski injuries in the month of February, and surprisingly many of them aren’t happening on the Black Diamonds or Double Black Diamonds ski trails. Emergency room physician Dr. Troy Madsen talks about why he thinks there seems to be an increase in ski accidents coming into the ER this year. He also discusses the false sense of security and safety that helmets can cause, and why many of the accidents may not necessarily be equipment issues, but rather, an attitudinal issue.
Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope. Scot: As an ER doctor, he has his finger on the front line of our health concerns. Likely, he's going to see it before anybody else. We're with Dr. Troy Madsen, with University of Utah Hospital. From the frontlines February, what are you seeing right now? What do we need to know about, be aware of?
Dr. Troy Madsen: Well, the big thing we're seeing right now that kind of jumps out in my mind is bad ski injuries. And when I'm talking about ski injuries, I'm talking about spinal cord injuries and head injuries. You know, they are the ski injuries we see every winter. People who are twisting their knees, maybe getting some kind of ligamentous injuries there, maybe even breaking some bones like a forearm or their lower leg, but we've seen several cases and have heard of several cases of really bad head injuries and even spinal cord injuries. Scot: So, worse than normal this winter. Dr. Troy Madsen: That's what it seems like. It definitely seems like it's been worse than normal in the past month than what I've seen in previous years. Scot: And, why do you feel that is?
Dr. Troy Madsen: Well, the big thing I find is that, you know, surprisingly the bad injuries don't occur on the black diamonds, they don't occur on the double black diamonds. It's not like people going down there just being crazy. They happen on intermediate runs, on the blue runs, and what I think is happened is we've had just not great snow. It's been icy. People are getting out there on these blue intermediate runs and going very fast, and then something happens. I don't know if they're just kind of catching an edge of their ski or just can't turn quite right. They hit a tree and have a very devastating injury because of that. Scot: And now, this is just conjecture. I'd imagine that probably not as experienced skiers are on the blue runs too, so that might play into it? Or don't you... Dr. Troy Madsen: Possibly. Scot: Yeah. Dr. Troy Madsen: I oftentimes find that the people who we're seeing with these serious injuries are from elsewhere, visiting here. Scot: So, give me an idea of what it's like to hit a tree. Dr. Troy Madsen: Yeah. Scot: While you're skiing. Dr. Troy Madsen: You know, fortunately I've never hit a tree at high speed. I have, kind of a low tree, you know, low speed, kind of bumped into some trees and that, but... Scot: And that hurts. Dr. Troy Madsen: And that hurts. Exactly. But, imagine, just imagine being on a motorcycle at, say, 60 miles an hour, because I think sometimes people are reaching 50, 60 miles an hour on a blue ski run, just flying down it, and imagine hitting a tree in that. And, you figure you're just, you're not going to survive that, or you're just going to have a very devastating injury. That's the best analogy. I mean, you're unprotected. You may have a helmet on, but you figure you're going that fast, running into a stationary object is going to do some damage, and it's typically going to be some very serious damage. Scot: I think there's some conversation going on about, you know, helmets can protect your head, but there are so many other things that could go wrong at those speeds. Like you said, the spine and that sort of stuff. Do you think there's a false sense of security that people have? I've got a helmet on, I should be fine. Dr. Troy Madsen: Yeah. I think there's no question about that. Scot: Yeah. Yeah. Dr. Troy Madsen: And I think we've all experienced that. You know, you put your helmet on, you're like, "Oh, I'm good. You know, I've got my helmet."
Scot: Yeah. Dr. Troy Madsen: But, I think it does. I think sometimes it does create a false sense of security. You know, the helmet can only do so much. It's worth wearing, no question about it because it's going to help, but when you're going that fast and you hit a stationary object, that can do some very serious damage even with a helmet on, it can cause bleeding in the brain or very serious issues in the brain, and then you know, as you mentioned the spinal cord injuries, that's a big issue as well and the helmet's not going to do anything for that. Scot: So, it almost sounds like maybe a lot of these injuries are not necessarily an equipment issue but kind of an attitudinal issue. Dr. Troy Madsen: Yeah. That's right. I mean, it's not like these people are coming in without helmets on. I think most people are wearing helmets now. But, it's more just maybe overestimating your ability, or maybe just assuming because it's an intermediate run, that it's safe. That you're going to be just fine just going down it as quickly as you like. Always ski in control. Make sure you're aware of the conditions. Icy conditions make it tough to turn, very easy to slide, hit a tree. Just be aware of kind of what's going on around you, what's going on in terms of your own skill level, and the potential for these very serious sort of things, even on runs that may not seem that scary or that advanced. Scot: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope. University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.