Have fun and stay safe when enjoying holiday activities

The Austrian ski resort of Obergurgl. Many winter sport injuries happen at the end of the day, when people are fatigued but over-exert themselves to finish that one last run, says NUH Sports Centre's Dr Wang Mingchang.
The Austrian ski resort of Obergurgl. Many winter sport injuries happen at the end of the day, when people are fatigued but over-exert themselves to finish that one last run, says NUH Sports Centre's Dr Wang Mingchang.PHOTO: REUTERS

WINTER SPORTS

Physical activities such as sledding, ice-skating and snowboarding come with the risk of injuries, especially from falling on hard surfaces such as ice or hard-packed snow.

This can cause fractures, most commonly of the wrist; ligament tears, such as the knee's anterior cruciate ligament; and head injuries, which tend to be the most dangerous, said Dr Wang Mingchang of the National University Hospital Sports Centre. "Many of these injuries happen at the end of the day, when people are fatigued but over-exert themselves to finish that one last run," he said.

Some injuries are specific to the sport. For example, skier's thumb is a ligament tear that occurs when a person falls on his hand while the ski pole's strap is still attached to his wrist. The thumb is forcefully deviated from the other fingers, causing the tear.

Then there is the "snowboarder's ankle", which is a fracture of the outer part of the talus (a bone in the ankle joint) that can occur when a person lands awkwardly after a jump.

Generally, people with chronic ailments, such as diabetes and heart disease, should consult a doctor before engaging in winter sports as they may need further tests.

"They also need to be educated on methods to monitor exercise intensity and danger signs specific to their condition, and know when to stop exercising," said Dr Wang.

He offers these health and safety tips for popular winter sports.

•Wear sunglasses or goggles which offer ultra-violet (UV) protection that will also allow you to see clearly. Sunlight reflected off snow and ice can damage the cornea and lead to "snow blindness".

•Warm up, as cold muscles are more prone to injury.

•Do not engage in the sport when tired. Never do it alone.

•Learn how to fall safely. When skiing, for example, aim to fall forward. Keep your legs slightly bent, tuck in your hands and roll so you land on one side of your upper back.

•When skiing or snowboarding, choose slopes or courses that are suited to your ability.

•Watch out for tree wells. These are holes under big trees which may be covered by snow.

•Wear helmets and, depending on the type of activity, wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads.

•Opt for safe-release skis in which the boot will be unfastened from the ski when the force of an impact exceeds a limit. When ice-skating, the boots should provide ample support around the ankles.

•Adopt proper postures and positions for the particular sport. For instance, when sledding, sit in a forward-facing position rather than lie on your belly and ride head-first down a slope as this poses a higher risk of head injuries.

LONG ROAD TRIPS

Road trips can be great adventures, especially if you prefer not to travel in big tour groups or be tied down to sightseeing schedules.

But being stuck behind the wheel for hours can cause body aches. Your eyes can become tired too, from having to keep your focus on the road all the time.

If you are the designated driver, be aware of these health hazards and precautions you can take.

Protect your eyes

The most common eye issues for drivers are fatigue from glare and eye strain, plus discomfort or grittiness from dry eyes, said Dr Karen Chia, a consultant at National Healthcare Group Eye Institute at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

The sun may be in your line of sight during the drive and looking directly at it without UV protection can damage the retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye.

Sunlight contains UVA and UVB rays, which are of different wavelengths. The former causes skin ageing, while the latter can lead to sunburn and skin damage.

While windshields absorb almost all UV rays, side windows block up to 70 per cent of UVB rays but allow all UVA rays through, said Dr Chia.

Long-term exposure to UV light can damage the eyes seriously. For instance, there is evidence that blue or violet light accelerates the development of macular degeneration, which is irreversible.

Those exposed to high levels of UV radiation may also develop cataracts, a clouding of the lens, earlier in life, added Dr Chia. Here are her simple ways to keep your eyes in tiptop shape throughout the drive.

•Wear glasses or sunglasses with UV protection of up to 400nm, not just on sunny days, but also during overcast or hazy days. Clear lenses can have UV protection too.

•Polarised sunglasses minimise glare from highly reflective surfaces. They help the driver see more clearly by enhancing colour vision and contrast, so driving in bright sunlight is safer and easier.

•Take adequate breaks, such as every few hours. Even if you are not sleepy, close your eyes for a while for a quick refresh.

•Blink often to lubricate your eyes as staring at the road inadvertently causes a person to blink less frequently.

•Use lubricant eyedrops every few hours to combat dry eyes.

•Drink plenty of water as open car windows and air-conditioning can cause painful, dry eyes.

Stop muscle aches and strains

Long hours in the driver's seat can also strain the back and neck, said Dr Teo Li Tserng, chief of trauma and acute care surgery at TTSH.

One should seek medical advice if the pain persists even after resting or taking painkillers, he said.

Drivers should adjust their seat position so that they are comfortable and able to see the road well, said Dr Teo, adding that they can also consider the following :

•The steering wheel should be at a distance where, when you rest your wrists on its upper edge, your hands can touch the dashboard. While driving, the elbows should be flexed.

•Adjust the headrest at a slight incline so that you can rest your head comfortably on it.

•Avoid slouching in the seat.

•Leg cramps may occur when you rest your foot on the accelerator for long periods. This suggests you have been driving for too long and should take a break.

•If you feel your concentration slipping, take short breaks of five to 10 minutes. On average, our ability to focus on any task drops after about 45 minutes to an hour.

•Drivers with a history of stroke or epilepsy must take their medication as prescribed.

Poon Chian Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Have fun and stay safe when enjoying holiday activities'. Print Edition | Subscribe