Study: Snowboarders’ protection is inadequate

Snowboarders go down hard when they fall, and wrist guards don’t give them enough protection on the body part that gets hurt the most, researchers say.

“Both feet are attached to the board, there aren’t any poles, and when there is a fall, they fall quickly,” researcher Jan R. Idzikowski said. “The natural reaction is to put hands out to mitigate the fall.”

Most riders did not wear wrist guards, the strapped-on, metal-braced splints favored by inline skaters, Idzikowski said. But even for those who did, “What’s available now is probably inadequate,” he said.

Idzikowski and colleagues at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Colorado looked over data on injuries, and published their findings in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

For 10 snowboarding seasons ending in 1998, the researchers gathered information on the most common injuries reported to 47 medical facilities near Colorado ski areas. Questionnaires filled out by patients and doctors reported such things as the type of fall, whether protective equipment was worn, and the location and severity of the injury.

A total of 7,430 injuries were described, and the results were compared with 3,107 uninjured skiers in a control group.

The wrist was the most common area hurt, with almost 22 percent of total injuries. Almost 78 percent of the injuries were fractures.

Thirty-four percent of all injuries to beginners were to the wrist, most of them fractures. However, beginners’ injuries still were less severe than those of more advanced snowboarders. When the experienced riders hurt their wrists, the fractures were worse, the report said.

“The more advanced you get, they do more aerial maneuvers,” Idzikowski said.

Relatively few snowboarders wore wrist protection _ about 6 percent of riders with any reported injury and more than 8 percent of uninjured comparison snowboarders, a difference too small to be statistically meaningful, the report said.

The report did show a benefit to wearing wrist guards. Snowboarders with any type of injury who wore wrist guards were about half as likely to be seen with a wrist injury, compared with those who did not wear guards, the study found.

The risk reduction is important, but the protection afforded by guards is not good enough, said Dr. Peter C. Janes, who collaborated with Idzikowski on the paper.

Snowboarders commonly wear guards that were made for inline skating, with a narrow metal rod to absorb and deflect sudden impact from a hard surface, Janes said. But snowboarders need a broader and longer rod to handle the impact of falling on a snowboard slope, he said.

A snowboarder who falls forward _ down the slope _ has farther to fall than a skater on a more level street might. And hitting snow instead of asphalt changes the dynamics of the impact, said Dr. John Tongue, a surgeon in Tualatin, Ore., who was not part of the study.

“I’m not sure wrist guards that are pretty effective for Rollerbladers would work for snowboarders,” Tongue said. “The metal strut is going to compact into the snow.”

The snowboard industry isn’t doing much to encourage riders to wear guards, said Janes, who developed a snowboard-specific wrist guard. “I could be very cynical and say they may not do anything until they are held over the fire,” he said.

The Grandoe Corp. of Gloversville, N.Y., developed a guard with Janes, and still makes guards for the sport. But snowboarders don’t like to wear guards, said president and chief executive officer Eric Friedman.

“Nowadays, the way people dress is about comfort,” Friedman said. “Anything that is stiffer and going to limit the range of motion is going to decrease comfort.”

“To me, it is uncomfortable,” said Maria McNulty of Santa Monica, Calif., a veteran snowboarder who judges competitions. Wrist guards feel cumbersome, she said.

Most snowboarders she sees don’t use wrist guards unleess their wrists are already damaged and they fear taking chances, McNulty said. She learned to fall with a clenched fist, to protect the fingers and “to try to sit on your bottom and not put out your hands to break the fall.” Unless something happens to her, that’s all she needs, she said.

By IRA DREYFUSS